Australiaâ€™s aura, which came with dominating world cricket, is gone
On Wednesday, Australia lost a one-day international to Sri Lanka. That is no longer the rarity it used to be. What made the match remarkable was that Sri Lanka came back from a hopeless position. It lost its eighth wicket at 107, with 133 more to get and Malinga, a bonafide number 10, at one end.
That makes it twice in a month. Australia similarly let India off the hook in the Mohali Test, when the eighth wicket had fallen with the target a whopping 92 runs away.
If you go back just a little more, to the Ashes opener last year, James Anderson and Monty Panesar scored the most important runs of their careers when they defied the Australian attack for 11.3 overs to pull off a great escape.
Not too long ago, this is what Australia used to do, with sickening regularity, to other teams. It wasnâ€™t often that Australia found itself in a tight situation. When it did, it would inevitably turn things around dramatically to win the game. A magical bowling spell from Glenn McGrath or Shane Warne, a rearguard by Steve Waugh or Adam Gilchrist was never too far. In those days, Australia seldom looked like losing.
Now it does, because the aura that comes free with dominating world cricket is gone. Earlier, it was common for captains speaking before commencing a tour to Australia to say that they hoped to compete. Not win. Compete. In usual pre-series buildup, McGrath would pick his targets, the top batsmen of the opposing side, and then proceed to take their wickets.
Teams playing Australia found themselves in the game for some part of the match, the good teams even for up to 80-90 per cent of a match, but after that Australia would pull away decisively. When the moment came, it would find the strike bowler to break a threatening partnership or the right batsman to launch a counterattack. It would also find unlikely heroes. McGrath, bat in hand, would hold up one end as Steve Waugh got the runs at the other.
Now, an Ishant Sharma emerges a batting hero, holding up one end as VVS Laxman stages a decisive march towards the target. Lasith Malinga unleashes the best pyrotechnics of his career as Angelo Mathews provides the reassurance at the other end.
When Australiaâ€™s aura was intact, such feats wouldnâ€™t happen because the rival teams did not have the belief to pull them off. Now they do. Earlier, it required rare individual brilliance â€” think Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Harbhajan Singh at Kolkata â€” to snatch a win against Australia. Now more players look capable of this brilliance.
In retirement, McGrath is still at it. As England commences its tour of Australia, Pigeon says he expects close matches resulting in another 5-0 whitewash. But everyone knows this is a bit of a joke. Wednesdayâ€™s loss stretched Australiaâ€™s winless streak to six internationals matches across all formats of the game. Its last international victory was in the Lordâ€™s Test against Pakistan in July.