A Decade of Domination – Part Two
The reasons for Australia’s dominance are many. They include selection policy, infrastructure (strong domestic competition and the ACA), lack of strength in the cricket world and most importantly, the players who came together in the past 10 years. I will be focussing on those players. It is true that most of the Australian team is well into their thirties. The fact is that the team has been together for a long time and this stability has resulted in great strength.
During the past decade, Australia has had more of its fair share of all time greats. “All time greats” is an over used term but not in the case of this team.
Warne and McGrath
I have no doubt that the single most important factor of Australia’s dominance is Warne and McGrath. Of course, they are their own men and very different bowlers but I bracket them together because they are the common thread in the past ten years. Warne came to his peak in 1993-94 and McGrath stepped up as a force in the momentous series win against the West Indies in 1994-95. Both players have been there for the whole time (barring injury and suspension). Between them, they have nearly 1100 Test wickets. Warne is the highest wicket taker of all time and McGrath is fourth. Both players are truly great cricketers in their own right, both are the “player of a life time”. By definition, the term “player of a lifetime” indicates that only one, if any, player should be labelled such in any given era. The fact that two such players’ careers have almost exactly coincided has been of immense benefit to Australian cricket.
Warne is arguably the best spinner of all time, McGrath is undeniably one of the best new ball bowlers the world has ever seen. McGrath can almost be counted upon to take two wickets with the new ball. Often more. And of course, Warne has had the ability to do the amazing and unexpected at any time.
Australia’s batting has been strong and there have been super stars, who we will get to, but I site these two bowlers as the most important because to win a match, you need to take 20 opposition wickets. It is of little use to score 1000 runs if you can’t bowl the opposition out. Just ask New Zealand.
In the summer of 2003-04, we experienced life without both Warne and McGrath (and Gillespie) and two of the four matches were drawn with not a minute lost due to rain. For the past ten years, a drawn match that Australia has played in has been almost unheard of, unless there has been significant bad weather. In fact, Australia was in the habit of winning matches in three or four days. The reason for this has been the ability to score quickly and lead by McGrath and Warne, to consistently rout the opposition.
Mark and Steve Waugh were core members of the team for most of this decade. Both made significant contributions to winning and saving many matches. Mark’s value as a catcher should not be underestimated, as has been highlighted in recent seasons. The twins’ greatest hour together was in the epic fourth Test against the West Indies. But it was rare for them to perform in tandem.
Steve Waugh was possibly the greatest fighter the cricket world has ever seen. Steve Waugh played many, many innings where he scored a century to save the innings, sometimes with the ‘keeper and sometimes with the tail. My favourite Steve Waugh match was at Manchester in 1997 when he scored hundreds in each innings, batting with a broken hand for the entire second dig. South Africa in particular revered the Waughs, especially Steve, and they were dominated by both players for almost a decade.
Steve Waugh’s impact on the decade as a player and later as captain were profound. His leadership through example as a player and then as captain were inspirational. If required to chose a man to bat for your life, Steve Waugh would be the choice of many.
I have sung Gilchrist’s praises many, many times over the years. He came into the team halfway through the last decade and Australia has hardly lost a match since. Gilchrist may not been the main reason but he is truly one of the all time greats and adds to the strength of the team immeasurably. While I don’t rate him in the top level of ‘keepers, he is a fine keeper and to have a batsman of his ability at number seven is indeed a luxury no team has ever had. Ever.
Ponting has graced the Australian team sheet for almost all of the past decade. He still seems young (and is, at a shade over 30) but has scored 6946 runs in 88 Tests at 56.47. Those of the figures of a great batsman, and I believe that by the end of his career, he will be in the top ten of all time.
The big man has had a relatively short career in terms of Tests. He only came into the team properly in 2001. He made his Test debut in 1994 following a mountain of Shield runs, but played just 13 Tests in the seven years up to 2001, for very meagre returns.
It is true that Hayden has had a lean time in the past 12 months but considering that and his modest beginnings, it is amazing that he still averages 53.46. This is a reflection of the domination of Hayden between Feb 2001 and July 2004. For just over three years, Australia rode on a mountain of Hayden runs, as he swept aside all before him.
During that time, Hayden scored 4523 runs at 69.58, with 19 centuries. This included a world record 380 and he twice scored two centuries in the one match. He scored centuries in four consecutive matches against South Africa, just failing to make it five in a row, with a score of 96.
It should also be remembered that starting in 2001, Hayden started one of the most successful opening partnerships in history, with none other than Justin Langer.
The Best of the Rest
In the interest of not being too generous with the terms “great” and super star, I have left the list at seven players. Still a rather long list for a ten year period. There is a long list of players who have verged on greatness and have played important parts in Australia’s success since 1995.
Mark Taylor: Successful captain and let us not forget a very good opening batsman. Of course, his rough trot as captain has left an impression that he was some sort of Mike Brearly. Note true – 7525 runs at 43.49 with 19 centuries and a top score of 334 not out are some serious runs.
Ian Healy: Quickly forgotten in the wake of AC Gilchrist but a magnificent gloveman, unparalleled keeping to Warne. Healy was a great team man, a fighter and scored many useful runs (four centuries) when the chips were down.
Michael Slater: Dazzling opening batsman. One of my favourites ever to watch. 5312 runs at 42.83 with 14 centuries.
Justin Langer: Often underrated and maligned. Probably the hardest work ethic of any of the team and has the rewards for it. 6607 runs at 46.52 with 21 centuries, three times past the 200 mark. And of course, is the other half of the famous Hayden and Langer opening duo.
Damien Martyn: Seemed destined not to fulfil his great potential. Debuted in 1992 and then spent seven long years in the wilderness. Has now played more than fifty Test and in recent times has really excelled (was the Test player of the year last year). Ironically, following criticism of his ability to handle spin, was instrumental in several wins on the subcontinent. Who’d have guessed? 3947 runs at 51.25 with 12 centuries.
Jason Gillespie: A great support for McGrath, Gillespie will probably go down as a great in his own right. 248 wickets at 25.72 and counting.
Stuart MacGill: MacGill is worth mentioning because at any other time or in any other country, he would have been a super star. He typifies Australia’s embarrassment of riches. Fortunately for MacGill, Warne has had his share of setbacks and has taken 160 wickets at 28.82, mostly as first reserve spinner. He has just once displaced Warne from the team.
It is also worth noting the domestic evergreens, destined never to have significant Test careers. They include: Law, Love, Hodge, Elliot, Bevan, Hussey, Lehmann (for a long time), Cox, Maher, Bichel and Kasprowicz (for a long time).
Many Australian fans have been contemplating life beyond Waugh, McGrath, Warne, Hayden and Gilchrist for some time. The recent Indian summer probably made some worry (or even panic) about it before time was due. There were many who wrote off Warne and McGrath in the 2003-04 season. But they are back and as good as ever. But of course, they can’t go on forever.
The selectors have the difficult job of keeping the team on top. I think that over the past ten years, Hohns, Border and Boon etc have done a good job. There has been the odd brain explosion, such as the Symonds fiasco in Sri Lanka but overall, they have made hard decisions when they counted and got the results.
In some cases, we might see players exiting the Test scene before they really have to, simply to avoid a mass exodus occurring at the same time. The simultaneous exits of Marsh, Lillee and Chappell should not be forgotten. We have seen the selectors move the likes of Border, Boon, Healy and Waugh on before they really had to, and this has been important. As long as there are worthy replacements, we might see the axe fall more ruthlessly in the coming two years. (I won’t name names but Matthew Hayden might be nervous).
In assessing the role of selectors and administration in the role of building this great team, I am drawn to recall the observations of the great Rugby League player, Brett Kenny. Parramatta won the Sydney premiership in 1981-1983 and 1986 and had possibly the best back line of all time (featuring Kenny, Sterling, Cronin, Grothe and Ella) as well as Ray Price. Most of those players left in 1987 and 1988 and the team failed for the next decade, much to the public consternation of the Eels administration – “we got it right in the eighties so why isn’t it working now?”. In response, Kenny made commented that the Parramatta administration had always taken credit for building the great team of the early eighties but really, it had happened completely by accident.
I can’t help but think that rings true in any situation where this a great team. While Australian cricket has done lots of things right, which increased their chances, lady luck plays a hand in throwing together the likes of the Waughs, McGrath, Warne, Ponting and Gilchrist for such a long period of time.
I am waiting for the coming Ashes series with great expectation. Each Ashes tour seems to be previewed by “this one will be much closer”. However, this time, England seems to be the real deal. That being said, they might be surprised that Australia is as strong as ever. It’s not time for a preview yet, but it is possible that this Ashes tour may be the closing chapter for some of the players in the current Australian team, and the end of a golden era – a Decade of Dominance.