So did Australia deserve to lose? Yes they did. England was the better team. But, on hindsight, I think all of us had placed Australia in a higher plane than they deserved. Sambit Bal sums it up perfectly when he writes -
The Australians have been hustled by Shoaib Akhtar and Shane Bond before, but they have had easy runs to pick at the other end. With England, there was no getting away. Harmison pinged them; Hoggard kept them tentative; Flintoff challenged them incessantly; and Simon Jones kept them pinned to the crease.
Consider this English bowling attack that showed its mastery of a previously reviled Oriental art, four bowlers all of whom prised out batsmen almost at will and another whose efforts with the ball were overshadowed by his batting! That is something that Australia has not faced in the recent past. Then Bal follows this argument with a comparison that has stayed with Australia through their run of successes these past few years, but this time with a difference.
The big unanswered question during the West Indian reign in the late-'70s and mid-'80s was how great the West Indian batsmen really were. After all they never had to test their skills against their own bowlers. After they have been put through the wringer, we are now able to venture a guess about this Australian batting line-up.
Ok, I think the caliber of at least ONE all time great is being questioned, but nevertheless the question seems to be valid.
But Australia have been barracked unfairly from some quarters too. Another Cricinfo column, this time by Anil Nair talks about the air of invincibility that the Aussies bought with them when they landed in England, but seemed to have left it behind in their hotel rooms when they made it on to the field. However, sample this -
To have had only nine debutants in five years and 68 Tests - contrast it with England's 26 in 75 Tests for roughly the same period - speaks of a set-it-in-stone syndrome at work, at once formulaic complacency and an attempt at myth-making.
As far as I know, this fact, in the past has been thrown around as one of the reasons for Australia’s awesome run. And suddenly the next day it is slammed as shortsightedness? And the same actions that were billed as “motivational” are now being slammed as the necessary rituals of a cricket team bent on creating an aura around itself in the manner of the Chicago Bulls. That is something I don’t understand.
There are usually two ways to categorize the positive result from a contest involving two equally matched participants (this series apparently was, if you consider the margin of the results)
- A win resulting out of a team raising its game utterly dominating the otherwise equal team
- A win resulting out of one good team playing below potential and imploding in the face of good opposition
Last year, just after the Aussie tour of India, I got into an argument with a friend who said that India was the second best team in the world, but I quietly pointed out to him England’s record over the past few years starting from 2001 when they went to Pakistan. Still he did not see eye to eye with me and pointed out that India had drawn the series in Australia. I think we were at a stalemate then with neither of us willing to let go. But now, he will have to change his opinion.
So, IMHO, all that England has to do to become the best team in the world is to play consistently during their sub-continental trips in the next few months and get to Australia and at least draw the series next year. As far as India is concerned, their first priority is to win more than one test match every away series and at least one series outside the subcontinent. Now if that is not stating the obvious, then what is?