In the late 90s and the early 2000s Australia was the team to beat in International cricket. Everything about Australian cricket was the right or even perfect. The team had perfect balance, great never say die attitude, hunger to win, pride for the country, a perfect cricketing board which understood its players and took good care of them and of course the fabled Aussie bench strength of upcoming talent and the best domestic tournament.
10 years down the line, everything suddenly seems to have gone haywire. The team is losing, there are disciplinary issues within the team, the players hunger to win and pride for the country are suddenly looking questionable, the cricket board seems to be bungling around one issue after another, and the coach of the country is fired less than a fortnight before an Ashes series. So what has gone so wrong and are there lessons for others to learn from this turning of the baggy green to saggy green!!
As we have the luxury of looking back in the past and try to put our hands on where exactly things started to unravel for Australia, let’s step back to the last crisis that the Aussie setup had. The Kerry Packer series had depleted some of the top talents and a young Allan Border was given the task of rebuilding the Aussie team for the future. The good thing for AB was that the expectations had reached rock bottom and the board and the captain did not have this weight on their shoulders for their experimentation. AB started building the spine of team based on the pride of the baggy green cap and fight for the team. The unit started to work as a team
and work out strategies together to get the results. AB did the rebuilding job with reasonable success with the world cup in 1987 being the icing on the cake. Also, given the lower expectations, there was less scrutiny and more acceptance of AB’s ideas which seemed to have worked pretty well for Team Australia.
Now that the team had stabilized, the onus of taking it to the next level fell on the shoulders of Mark Taylor. Taylor was credited with nurturing the talents that went on to haunt the teams of the late 90s and 2000s. The young Warnes and Mcgraths started to emerge. Taylor’s leaderships skills worked like magic, the only sore point was his off and on form which meant that at times his only contribution to the team was his excellent captaincy. Meanwhile, the Australain board continued to work in the background in putting in place a domestic setup that threw up wonderful cricketers all the time. As the level of competition in the domestic tournament increased, so did the quality of the players and the fabled bench strength started to emerge.
After the board, finally decided that Mark Taylor cannot play just as a captain, the mantle fell on Steve Waugh who was a veteran who had served under two very successful captains and leaders. Waugh brought his own brand of fighting spirit into the team and the Aussie team continued it’s winning ways. Though the Aussie team played hard cricket under AB, Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh, the captains were leaders who were able to impose themselves on the team and keep the team just within the line that should not be crossed.
That is when the Australian cricket board decided to take the punt on the Punter after the retirement of Steve Waugh. Punter was the best batsmen that the Aussies had and played his cricket with utmost passion and pride. The only thing that made the selection of Punter a punt was the fact that he had his fair share of indiscretions earlier in the career and had also had to undergo punishment for the same from the Aussie board. Once Punter took over, the results started getting better all the time as the Aussies seemed to be steamrolling down opposition after opposition. But the strategy to achieve these results were fraught with danger as winning became a obsession and it was being sought after at any cost. Soon the escalations of rivalry started with all teams beginning to side against the Aussies. The Pommies hated them, the Indians hated them, the South Africans hated them and so did the rest of the cricketing world. And this was because of the arrogance shown on the field by the Australian players which all boiled down to a watershed moment one fine evening in Sydney when famously “only one side played the game in the spirit of the game.”
During the days when the Aussies were winning a lot under the likes of AB, Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh, though supporters of other teams hated losing to them, but usually they liked the Aussie team and it was a team that they would support after their own team (of course except the Pommies). But suddenly the world had changed. Aussies were the enemy no.1 for every team and its supporters. Sydney also changed something in the Australian board and despite not making things public, some hard words have been exchanged and Aussie team is trying hard to overcome the bad boy image.
Another problem which Punter failed to foresee as a captain was the composition of his troops. With the obsession on winning, he continued to play the best available team whenever possible. This meant that the development of the bench started to falter as the bench now was not accustomed to playing at the highest level. This oversight from the board and the captain was one of the biggest blunders which has led to the current team situation. With the retirement of seniors one after the other the team was literally obliterated and the incoming players on the bench inherited the arrogance and aggressiveness of their match winning players, but on the field their talents were not on the same plane. So now Australia was stuck with an arrogant and losing team.
After the retirement of Punter, the captaincy fell on Pup who was one of the culprits of the fateful Sydney evening. Again a wonderful batsmen in his own right, Pup was a perfect performer in a well oiled lean and mean machine that simply was winning everything. But as soon as the mean machine stopped winning, Pup did not have any experience to support him. Pup initially tried an aggressive line of Punter and this only resulted in early retirement for some of the other experienced hands available to him. To compound matters for Pup, the advent of T20 and IPL cricket meant that playing for the country was not the only means of living for players and suddenly the commitment levels dropped. As a leader, it was time for Pup to stand up and show how it is done. Unfortunately, off and on back problems meant that he was never there for a team that requires building and since then the performances have gone only one way.
So here are the lessons to be learnt from the Aussie decline:
- When something succeeds, everything surrounding it seems to be the best approach. The reality is visible only during a crisis!!
- The only real bench strength that I have seen from Aussies recently was when Warner punched Joe Root on a bench at a pub!!
- When everything seems to be going your way, the captain needs to get a bit restless and start thinking about the future. The desire to maximize profits need to be vetted against the desire to be successful for a long time.
- Ponting needed to think forward about the team composition when stars were starting to age.
- Successful people need to be role models as you never know what the next generation is learning from you.
- Aussie youngsters could have done well to learn the work ethic and competitiveness of Ponting than his over aggressiveness.
- Building teams cannot be done satisfactorily without full involvement and personal time.
- Aussie need to get Clarke’s back up in shape or get a backup for him as captain.
- School masters are good for schools and not for successful businesses and professional teams.
- Whatever point Arthur wanted to prove with the “Homework” saga, the school master approach finally cost him his job.
Team India is currently following a similar path to the Australian story with Ganguly playing the role of AB and the early Mark Taylor era by building a team with a solid backbone and good talent. Dhoni has nurtured the team to full potential winning a clutch of trophies and placing India at the top of the charts. Indian vice- captain at this moment is Viral Kohli who shows all signs of Ponting’s aggression and arrogance. Will Team India take the punt with Kohli or will Team India and Kohli learn from the Aussie experience?
Only time will tell.