Australia – Aiming For The Summit Or Staring At The Abyss?
Australia – A five-time World Cup winner and a former number one team in the world are currently in a precarious position in international cricket. A proud cricketing nation brought down to its knees by the antics of it’s own cricketers. Captain Steve Smith along with his deputy David Warner and fellow opening batsmen Cameron Bancroft were caught red handed trying to change the shape of the ball in a recently concluded Test series in South Africa. What followed was the complete bashing of the Australian side along with bans for Smith, Warner and Bancroft. The coach of the team Darren Lehmann followed suit by handing in his resignation. An entire nation was embarrassed, with even the Prime Minister of Australia issuing a public statement.
How did a great cricketing nation with world class talent come to this stage? A team that was for the best part of the last three decades the best team in the world, even coming close to being mentioned in the same bracket as that of “the Great Australian Invincible team” led by the Legendary Sir Don Bradman. A strong domestic cricket system that churned out world class talent one after the other, the likes of Brett Lee, Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, Mathew Hayden, Brad Haddin, Shane Warne, Michael Clarke etc, to make it to the Australian team is a great achievement on its own. But whoever came in were made aware of the standards that was set by the players.
The Australian team has also been lucky to have had great captains, starting from Alan Border who won the 1987 World Cup in India, followed by Mark Taylor, who took the team to the finals at the 1996 World Cup only to be beaten by Sri Lanka and led the team to series victories in the West Indies, Pakistan and South Africa. Steve Waugh took up the captaincy after the retirement of Mark Taylor and led the team to the 1999 World Cup victory and to the number one position in Tests with a record breaking 15 consecutive Test victories.
Ricky Ponting was the next in line to take over the captaincy and with his aggressive ‘in your face attitude’ led the team to even greater heights – winning the 2003 and 2007 World Cups going unbeaten through out both these tournaments. The Champions Trophy in India and the much awaited test series victory in India eluded both Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh. By the time Ponting was done he had won everything that was on offer.
Michael Clarke was the next to take up the reigns and was moderately successful with 2015 World Cup victory at home being the high point of his captaincy. However there was lots of dressing room unrest with even Michael Clarke admitting upon his retirement that he was on the wrong side of Mathew Hayden, Simon Katich and even referring to all-rounder Shane Watson as ‘a cancer’. Throughout all this period Australia were consistently winning trophies, though cracks were starting to appear in the team. Next in line was Steve Smith, a lot was expected from the New South Wales lad who started off his career as a leg spinner but converted himself to the mainstay of the Australian batting order along with David Warner. Averaging close to 62, with 23 Test centuries to his name.
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Steve Smith was supposed to be the leading light of a country obsessed with cricket but all these expectations came crashing down with the ball tampering charges in South Africa. Now Australia find themselves at crossroads, with a new captain, Tim Paine, and a new coach, Justin Langer, with a team that doesn’t have the same kind of superstars that it did before. It’s always said that “Life comes a full circle”, well the Australian team seems to have completed their full cycle and need to start from scratch.
The former Test great- Justin Langer is expected to stabilise this team and create the belief in this team to mount a challenge to the top. He needs time and patience to mould this team into the same ruthless,aggressive and attacking team that he was part off but unfortunately, it is a very difficult situation with the Indian Team touring Australia later in the year and the World Cup less than a year away, it’s going to be tough to bring in new players and allow them time to settle in. The next two years will be important for this Australian team, with a need to be freshened up with a new approach and patience.