Ashes 2015: Seeds of Australia's future embedded in fifth Test
If you’ve played long enough, the zigzag pattern of cricket at the highest level ceases to startle. What goes around, generally comes around. The moth-eaten adage holds true for most cricket teams, even our exalted demigods. Australia however, had been a different kettle of fish. The Aussies lived an ethereal existence from 1999 to 2007. They won three straight World Cups, three Ashes, even conquered the final frontier in 2004, among other quotidian achievements. Australia made a mockery of the law of averages.
And then the slide began
Mortality began to reveal its ugly face only after the World Cup triumph in 2007, a corollary of multiple retirements which had formed the core of their side. Few older statesmen remained, but their powers were discernibly diminishing.
As their epilogue was penned, defeat, the unknown phenomenon, suddenly gathered steam in 2009, with a 2-1 Ashes loss that set a template for the next two. Australian cricket found itself functioning on an ad hoc basis, where nothing was guaranteed, let alone success.
Dummy review committees were set up, grown up men were transported back to school, recreation was sought in bar brawls and a coach was fired at the eleventh hour. These were murky times, reminiscent of England during the 90’s.
Good times were back, but short-lived
The sun finally broke through the layers of gloomy grey after Australia regained the Urn against pre-series odds at home. A seasoned English side weren’t just beaten but annihilated, who didn’t just stumble but fell deep into a dark bottomless abyss.
Australia had miraculously recovered from what appeared to be a terminal illness. After hitting nadir, Australia achieved considerable success over the last two years, beginning with the aforementioned whitewash of England in the 2013-14 Ashes, followed by a 2-1 humbling of the Proteas in South Africa and a fifth World Cup title, at home.
Yet, inexplicably, Ashes 2015 remained a bridge too far. And so, it has been hard to ignore the powerful feeling of déjà vu this summer, as roles conspicuously reversed. Australia arrived as incontestable favourites this time, but England produced an inspired performance, nearly as emphatic as the one they bore the brunt of, two seasons ago. Contrasting methodologies produced a simulating conclusion.
It was puzzling to see a side that had fought back to the summit of world cricket surrender obediently to an English side merely thought to be rebuilding before Cardiff and perhaps even after Lord’s. However, even with the series lost, there’s enough at stake at the Oval. Appearances are often misleading.
The final Test carries significance
The picture’s perhaps not as bleak. The world would be a more welcoming place if Australia could win the last Test at the Oval. 3-2 has a better ring to it than 4-1. A closer scoreline can soften the blow, the benefits of which can be reaped later. The fifth Test may be deemed inconsequential in the short sighted context of the series, but in the larger scheme of things it remains relevant. In fact it could outline the landscape of Australia’s future.
Michael Clarke and Chris Rogers have already announced their intentions, you needn’t be a soothsayer to predict that Brad Haddin will follow suit. Steve Smith and David Warner; the only certainties in the top seven, will be left to stand forlorn.
In a sense Australia’s dramatic resurgence in 2013-14 was hitched to the evolution of Smith and Warner. Then, it was incidental. Now it will have to be conscious of the fact that they are the pivot around which the nascent batting unit will revolve. That reality augments the urgency of banishing the demons of Edgbaston and Nottingham before it leaves an indelible imprint on the fledgling minds of Smith and Warner.
Furthermore, Smith is also the natural heir to Australian captaincy. He must discard preoccupations outside the off stump before the pressure of captaincy starts gunning him down. Runs are a traditional remedy. He needs them at the Oval.
In a sense his situation is akin to Virat Kohli’s, who was also scarred by James Anderson and co last summer, before being handed over the reins to the Indian team. In fact Australia could take a leaf out of India’s nagging overseas troubles. It is imperative to stem the rot or risk the incessant pull of defeat drag an entire generation six feet under.