A 90s kid who has watched most of his/her cricket in the 2000s will know the impact and the dominance Australia had in the sport of cricket, which made many of the cricket lovers fall in love with the sport during that period.
That was an era in which the Australians would sweep away every opponent of their's and roll over other cricketing nations in all the tournaments. Come 2018, the once invincible, mighty and the superpower of world cricket has undergone a year in which they have fallen from basking in the oblivion to biting the dust on the ground.
The dominant era of the Australian cricket team ran from the early 90s, since the days of the Waughs and the Taylors, and persisted somewhat till their win in the 2015 ODI World Cup. There was a time in which Australia won every global tournament that they took part in, right from winning 3 World Cups in a row to winning the ICC Champions Trophy in 2006 and 2009, to winning the Ashes in England in 2001 and crossing their final frontier of beating India in India in 2004.
Such was their dominance that all non-Australian cricket lovers would feel the heat before the start of any major global tournament because their team stood very minimal chances of beating Australia, let alone actually winning those tournaments. Their dominance was spread across all formats of the game and in all the countries they played. Beating Australia in any conditions was regarded as a massive achievement for any cricketing nation during that period.
The Australian cricket team had a batting lineup comprising of all the greats of the game, be it Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer as the openers, Ricky Ponting, Steve Waugh, Damien Martyn, and in later years Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke in the middle order. Australia also had the services of the best wicketkeeper-batsman in world cricket, Adam Gilchrist, at that time.
It was regarded that if Hayden and Langer provide you with the great starts, the middle order would form the big partnerships and Gilchrist would grind the opposition bowlers into submission to finish their innings on a high. The bowling attack was even more fearsome, with tearaway pacers such as Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie, with the ever so consistent, Glenn McGrath.
The spin wizard, Shane Warne, would bamboozle the opposition batsmen for fun on any given wicket. The performance levels of all the players would always be at their peak, further enhancing their dominance. At this time, the conditions and the quality of opposition just did not matter, Australia would win with authority anywhere they went.
The dominance of Australia did begin to fade away with the retirements of all those mentioned great players but never did they end up being in a helpless or a hopeless scenario. They still dominated in their own conditions and managed to win away from home, here and there. The greats were replaced by able players, although not of that quality but good enough to be considered a force to reckon with.
But the year 2018 has rocked Australian cricket and has seen them fall into a pall of gloom completely, which has left them and their fans clueless. The art of winning seems lost on the team which knew nothing but winning, the best among all the cricketing nations. So drastic has been the fall that now the conditions and the quality of opposition don't seem to matter, Australia just has lost their way in international cricket.
The sandpaper gate, Australian cricket's biggest controversy till date, has been the primary reason for their steep fall. During the away series against South Africa in 2018, David Warner conspired to apply sandpaper on the cricket ball to alter the condition of the ball to favor their bowlers, while Steve Smith stood there in complete awareness, taking no action to stop it.
This cricketing crime was captured live on the cameras in South Africa, resulting in a year-long ban for both those cricketers. Warner and Smith formed the core of the Australian batting lineup, with their batting averages a cut above the rest.
Smith had the highest batting average among any active cricketer in the world at that time and Warner was menacing with his destructive batting ability. Their loss has distressed the Australian batting and no other batsman in the current team inspires the same degree of confidence.
Usman Khawaja, with an average of just 42.11, is the most established batsman in the Australian setup currently, speaking volumes of the lack of quality in the Australian batting. Their first-class competition, the Sheffield Shield, which produced batting talents such as Allan Border, Ponting, Gilchrist, and the Waughs, seems to be undergoing a draught.
There is not a single batsman in the Australian domestic setup with an average of over 50 or for that matter barely any cricketer with an average of over 40. This lack of batting quality has hurt Australia really hard, they have not scored above 400 all through 2018 in Test Cricket, save for the Sydney Test in January against a weary English bowling.
The Australia cricket team lost all the Test Series that they played in 2018, except for winning the Ashes at home which they had sealed in 2017 itself. Albeit the heroic escape in Dubai against Pakistan, in which Australia snatched a draw out of a certain defeat, there is nothing concrete to show for Australia in Tests in 2018.
The bowling stocks of Australia too have taken a hit in 2018 after the sandpaper incident, with the former cricketers turned pundits criticizing the performances of Mitchell Starc, the once most fearsome left-arm fast bowler in the world, and Josh Hazelwood. Both the premier Aussie fast bowlers have been below-par in their performances ever since the culmination of the 2017-18 Ashes series.
The performances of Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon, only have kept Australia afloat and have not let the bowling standards fall so drastically.
After the banishment of Steve Smith and David Warner, there seemed to be nobody to take over the mantle of leadership in the Australian team, which is why the long forgotten Tim Paine, who was hauled back into the side after six years, was handed over the role of captaincy by the Australian team management.
Expecting Paine to sort out the issues in the Australian setup was too much to ask for, but there has been no real inspiring performance from Paine either as a captain or with the bat. His best performance after his heroic vigil at Dubai has come out in his sledges in the ongoing home series against India.
The Australian captain, as has always been the case, is someone with loads of cricketing experience, a sharp cricketing mindset and is one who leads his team from the front with either the bat or the ball. None of those qualities seem to be present in the current Australian skipper, who has let the team and the fringe-cricketers viewing the Australian captain as their role-model down and short on inspiration.
The ODI standards of Australia to the anguish of their fans have been absolutely horrific in 2018. They are the team with the worst winning percentage in 2018 among the top 10 cricketing nations. The once top-ranked side of the world is currently going through its worst ODI form in their history ever.
With the win percentage of 15.22, they are the worst performing cricketing team in 2018 with just 2 wins in 13 games. Australia suffered humiliating defeats in 2018, the worst against their arch-rivals England, losing 5-0 in the 5 match series away, apart from losing their home series 4-1. Australia also lost to South Africa at home in a 3 match ODI series.
All these statistics lay down the drastic fall from grace for Australia in the field of cricket. They need to sort a lot of issues in the coming months, considering the World Cup is just around the corner in six months' time. The return of Smith and Warner in March will definitely bolster the Australian cricket team and hopefully drive them back to being a force in world cricket.
Cricket needs the mighty Australians back to playing the top brand of cricket that they displayed earlier this century. The last thing that the cricketing world needs is another West Indies sort of a situation, where they went from being invincibles to being one of the lowest ranked and rated team in the cricketing world.
All the cricket lovers want to see cricket being played at the highest level with the best of players and certainly, Australia with the amount of passion for cricket in their country can provide the best of the talents to the game of cricket. The issues at the domestic and the grassroots level need to be handled with great care and honesty for Australia to bounce back in the field of cricket and be the superpower they once were.Published 06 Jan 2019, 19:10 IST