Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Premature optimism?

Over the last few weeks, Australia have shown a remarkable resurgence with three thumping wins over the touring Indians- a side that was rated the world's No.1 just six months ago. Their utter dominance shows beyond doubt that the Kangaroos are a vastly improved team from the one that was flogged 3-1 at home last season. The remarkable performance by Clarke's men, reminiscent of the predecessors a generation ago, has prompted the Aussies to state to target numero uno status before the next Ashes series in 2013.

The newly rediscovered optimism has got me worried. Admittedly I may be reading too much into it, but it seems to me that the people who matter most in Australian cricket have already started fancying that everything is well in Australian cricket and that their team is well on its way to regaining the crown it held for the best part of two decades. Such optimism comes across as unduly ambitious at best or plain complacent at worst when you take into account the fact that the team in question was shot out for 47 barely two months ago and was at the receiving end of its first ever defeat at the hands of New Zealand in nearly two decades just over a month ago.

There's no denying that Australia have walked all over India in this series but its equally true that results against India are no longer an indication of the strength of a side. England, who were even more dominant against the Indians at home a few months ago, have just had their shortcomings in Asian conditions brutally exposed by a Pakistan side that is excellent and even efficient, but by no means world beating. Australia's last series win before this one was against a side that has won just one test in the last 18 months- hardly the kind of opposition to give anyone sleepless nights.

Which is not to say that Australia have been filling their boots with easy wins against mediocre opposition, far from it. The manner in which they have exerted pressure on their opponents in the present series has been outstanding, but it must be kept in mind that the Indian batsmen have far from imposed themselves on the opposition. Will the likes of Hilfenhaus, Siddle and Cummins manage to exert the same kind of pressure on opponents who try to unsettle them?

An even greater concern is that most of the members of this attack have very limited experience of bowling in unhelpful conditions. The likes of Cummins and Starc have never once been to Asia and none of the current lot have ever been to the carribean. Can they replicate their dominance at home in unfamiliar conditions?

Only time will tell.
The question marks are not confined to the bowling alone. Not unlike their opponents, Australia have an aging middle order. Ponting and Hussey, who are both in their late 30s now, are surely not going to be around much longer. Add to it the fact that Haddin's batting and keeping alike have shown a marked deterioration in recent months. At 34, his future too looks precarious, which means that Australia have the challenge of getting at two to three youngsters ready to take over within the next 12 to 18 months and right now the likes of Marsh and Khwaja look far from ready to take over from their seniors.

There isn't the least doubt that there are several promising youngsters waiting to be picked, but the people in charge of Australian cricket need to ensure that those youngsters are given the opportunity to find their feet at the highest level before their seniors retire. The worst thing that can happen at this stage is a bunch of talented youngsters having to learn the nuances of life at the highest level all by themselves. Australia have already paid a heavy price of poor succession planning. It is imperative that they avoid repeating the mistake.
The Australians have every reason to take heart from their recent showing against the Indians. Nonetheless, there remains much work to be done before they dream of becoming the number one side. Rising up the ranks will require hard work, determination and an acceptance of the fact that they are going to face several failures along the way. they need to caution against undue optimism, for one series win does not a great team make. Its good to be ambitious, even better to be realistic.

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