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25 Aug 2009 10:53
Australia’s 14-year domination of international cricket is officially over after they failed in their attempt at a smooth succession plan.
A quarter of a century after Australian cricket was plunged into years of darkness with the simultaneous retirements of Dennis Lillee, Greg Chappell and Rod Marsh, officials made the same mistake again.
Australia’s latest demise had been coming for at least two years, but was only confirmed on the weekend when they surrendered the Ashes to England.
The official proof of their freefall came with the release of the International Cricket Council’s Test rankings. Having held the number one spot since the rankings system was introduced in 2003, Australia has plummeted to fourth.
For an era that began with a bang, it ended in a whimper.
The Australians have won just two of their last five Test series, including their first defeat on home soil in 17 years, against South Africa last December.
Their record in the shorter forms of the game is just as embarrassing.
They have won just one of their past four one-day series and failed to make it past the first round of this year’s Twenty20 World Cup.
It is a far cry from where they were perched just a little over two years ago.
Australia had announced their return to the top of world cricket in dramatic fashion in 1995 when Mark Taylor’s team defeated the mighty West Indies, who had themselves dominated the game in the 1980s and 1990s.
Under Taylor, Steve Waugh and then Ricky Ponting, the Australians set about rewriting the record books, crushing their opponents with a team overflowing with talent and ruthless ambition.
But signs that things were about to get a lot harder emerged a few years ago when the core of players who had contributed to their golden era began departing at a rapid rate.
When Taylor retired in 1999, the team remained fairly constant until his successor, Waugh, called it a day in 2004.
However, more than three-quarters of the team that Ponting inherited from Waugh either quit or were sacked in the next three years.
Fast bowler Jason Gillespie was never picked again after scoring an unbeaten double-century and being named player of the series against Bangladesh in April 2006.
Leg-spinner Shane Warne, paceman Glenn McGrath, opener Justin Langer and middle-order batsman Damien Martyn all retired during or after the triumphant 2006/07 Ashes series.
Wicketkeeper-batsman Adam Gilchrist quit a year later, then wrist-spinner Stuart MacGill followed him into retirement a few months after.
Opener Matthew Hayden pulled up stumps after last summer’s loss to South Africa and all-rounder Andrew Symonds was sacked this year after a series of disciplinary issues.
It took Australia five years to recover after Lillee, Chappell and Marsh all quit in 1984 and officials vowed never to let it happen again.
But they failed to develop a proper succession plan, and with more retirements likely in the coming years, the wait for another great team could take years.
Ponting, the last of Australia’s players from their golden era, is 34, while pacemen Brett Lee and Stuart Clark are both in their 30s and no longer guaranteed selection.
Opener Simon Katich, middle-order batsman Mike Hussey and wicketkeeper Brad Haddin are also in their 30s and Australia are no closer to finding a permanent replacement for Warne despite trying several spinners.
The Australian selectors, who copped the brunt of the criticism for the Ashes defeat, have shown little patience with the rare few players under 30 who have been given a chance, but may have to take a riskier approach if Australia is to recover soon.—Reuters
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