Mauled in ‘Broad’ daylight

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Gutless performance The grit and determination one normally associates with the Australians was missing
Gutless performance The grit and determination one normally associates with the Australians was missing

Before the Ashes 2015 got under way, it was Australia who had the upper hand. They won their fifth odi World Cup title in 2015, whereas England had a disappointing first round exit from the same event. Australia looked a formidable outfit, keen to maintain their winning momentum and were favourites to retain the Ashes urn. For the English team, settings were not ideal as they were grappling with plenty of off-field controversies: the sacking of coach Peter Moores, the unceremonious exit of Kevin Pietersen and the appointment of Trevor Bayliss, an Australian, as the coach. To add to the woes, Alastair Cook’s captaincy was under scrutiny. So things looked pretty bleak for England.

However, cricket being a game of glorious uncertainties, England, who appeared low in morale, scripted a remarkable turnaround to clinch the Ashes in style. Australia had no option other than to lick their wounds when they conceded an unbeatable 3-1 lead to England. It was the fourth successive Ashes win by England on home soil against Australia (2-1 in 2005, 2-1 in 2009, 3-0 in 2013 and now leading 3-1).

Alastair Cook and his men took the field devoid of any inspiration. However, Cook led from the front and with immense help from the likes of Joe Root, Ben Stokes, James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Steven Finn, the Aussies were torn to pieces.

After being shot out for an appalling 60 of 18.3 overs in the first innings at Nottingham, thanks largely to the career best 8/15 by Stuart Broad, the Aussie campaign was well and truly over in the first session of the fourth Test itself. It was just delaying the inevitable as far as the result was concerned and England, having outplayed the kangaroos in all departments of the game, hammered the last nail in the coffin of Aussies by winning the fourth Test by an innings and 78 runs to regain the famous Ashes. In the battle between the two skippers, Cook and Michael Clarke, it was the former who had the last laugh.

What was more embarrassing for the Aussies was that they lost two back-toback Test matches within three days, the first by any Ashes team since 1921. What was more shocking about the Aussie batsmen was their inability to cope with the swing and bounce of the English bowlers. Their poor shot selection left many to wonder whether the T20 impact is adversely affecting their Test playing ability.

Aussies have always backed their aggressive instincts even when things are not going their way. This strategy is certainly positive but it is also fraught with danger. And the outcome can sometimes be disastrous. Their poor performance can be attributed to this fact and Aussies need to reassess their game plan for the future. It may be recalled that the Aussie media, in particular, had repeatedly made fun of team India’s inability to play on bouncy pitches. Now their own team has become a butt of jokes for the same reason.

As the result of the fourth Test became almost clear, Aussie newspapers came down heavily on their players with some even suggesting cancellation of citizenship of the entire team. “What a disgrace,” read a front-page headline on Sydney’s Daily Telegraph with a picture of embattled Australia captain Michael Clarke. “We’ll let you choose the headline: Embarrassed, Demolished, Humiliated,” the same tabloid wrote on its back page.

The blame for the loss was undoubtedly pinned on the skipper Clarke, who was a pale shadow of his former self. Struggling with poor form, he hardly inspired confidence and in the end he had to bid adieu to international cricket. Over reliance on Steve Smith and Mitchell Johnson proved costly for them. Fiery and unplayable when England played Australia last time, Johnson was handled with ease by English batsmen in the present Ashes series and that turned the things around for England. The Johnson-factor was astutely minimised by England.

Without mincing any words, former Australian skipper Ricky Ponting made his displeasure known. In a scathing interview to a website, Ponting said, “There could be up to eight guys who might not ever play Test cricket again in this touring squad. That’s a big number… half the squad.” Admitting that the team was just not up to the task, Ponting said: “You’ve got to break it down and look at the deficiencies. They just haven’t been good enough. I don’t care what they want to say.”

While for the English team it has been a fairy tale so far, for the Aussies it has been a sublime tragedy.

The Aussies were a tough nut to crack when they were led by Allan Border, Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting and had the cricketing fraternity in awe with their ruthless dominance, throwing up an array of world class players – Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee, Mathew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist to name a few .

But the manner in which they have played their game has thus far not won them any admirers. The Aussie players have often got involved in unnecessary war of words to demoralise the opposition. Their sledging has an air of arrogance and attitude.

Just look at the instances where they have crossed the line: Michael Slater’s unwanted arguments with Rahul Dravid and the umpire during the Mumbai Test in 2002, Glenn McGrath’s unsporting behaviour towards Sachin Tendulkar at the Adelaide Test in 1999 when Sachin was given out lbw to a ball that hit his shoulders, Skipper Ricky Ponting after the 2006 Champions trophy final win over West Indies , unimpressed with the time-consuming presentation ceremony, pointed a finger at the then BCCI president Sharad Pawar asking him to give the trophy quickly and the infamous ‘monkeygate’ incident involving Andrew Symonds and Harbhajan Singh in 2008. In fact the list is endless and one can write a book on Australia’s misplaced aggression.

As Australia try to regroup after the current fiasco, there will be a lot of pressure on the young skipper Steve Smith. It is quite easy to lead a side when it is on a winning spree, but after a humiliating defeat like this the road ahead for Smith and company can be quite tough.

The golden era of Australia is clearly over. They are presently facing a situation which they encountered in 1984, when three legends bid adieu in the same year, Greg Chappell, Rodney Marsh and Dennis Lillee. So, the alarm bells are truly ringing for the embattled kangaroos.

arijeet@tehelka.com

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