May 3, 1995. Sabina Park, Jamaica. West Indies vs Australia. Mark Taylor’s side wins the final Test by an innings and 53 runs to win the four-match series 2-1. It officially marked the changing of the guard in world cricket. West Indies, who were unbeaten in a series for 15 years, were no longer the dominators. The mantle was passed to Australia, who had now become the ultimate Test team. 23 years later, on a gloomy and overcast January day at the Sydney Cricket Ground, a draw results in Virat Kohli’s Indian cricket team winning the four-Test series 2-1. Australia has lost a series at home against an Asian nation for the first time.
If Jamaica 1995 marked the change of guard in world cricket, then Sydney 2019 marks the official end of Australia’s dominance and raises questions on their cricketing system. When South Africa had defeated Australia for the first time in 2008 in Melbourne, the team was in decline. The Ashes loss against England resulted in the Argus Review which looked at improving performance. For some time, it worked. However, on hindsight, it seems that the Argus review was just a band-aid over a wound which required surgery.
Make no mistake about it. A similar obituary was written about Australian cricket when they had squandered 16 years of dominance at home against South Africa in 2008. This series loss against India is dispiriting for several reasons. One, Australia’s current crop of players cannot tackle swing and seam. Two, their techniques are shredded by spinners. However, they had the comforts of home to fall back on after each overseas loss. Not anymore.
The sandpaper gate fiasco robbed Australia of Steve Smith and David Warner, two of the team’s best batsmen for a year. Smith, in particular, was the difference in the 2014/15 series in which he smashed 769 runs at an average of over 100 which helped Australia win the series 2-0 against India. However, the decline of Australia cricket did not begin in 2018. It was a culmination of steady deterioration in the first-class system of Australia.
One tweet by an Australian journalist highlighted the gulf. From 1997 to 2009, the peak years of Australia’s dominance, there would be one batsman almost every year that would go past 900 or 1000 runs in the domestic Sheffield Shield tournament. Since that period, there has been none. The failure to identify Australia’s next Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, Matthw Hayden, Justin Langer or Damien Martyn has hurt Australia big time. It showed in the series against India. Not a single century from an Australian batsman in the four-Test series, the first time this fate has happened in 100 years. In 2018, only one century in the last 10 Tests and no batsmen averaging 40.
No talent in Sheffield Shield
The lack of runs accumulated by players who are on the domestic circuit in Australia is worrying. Cheteshwar Pujara and Mayank Agarwal, who batted out a lot of balls during the Melbourne Test, highlighted the robustness of India’s domestic structure. After the win, skipper Virat Kohli said, “Making plenty of runs in a tough first-class environment back home only bodes well for us when required to bat long periods of time. You need to learn the art of batting in a variety of conditions before having the tools to convert this into the Test arena,” Kohli said. Kerry O'Keefe, who had angered fans by ridiculing the first-class system in India, perhaps needs to look inwards at the rot in his own land.
This quote by Kohli is a reflection of Australia’s current batting, which have collapsed too regularly and have been unable to tackle the conditions outside home. Even in this series, India’s bowlers, the likes of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma turned the tables and exposed Australia’s technical inefficiencies.
The series result is the culmination of plenty of flaws in the Australian system, long hailed as one of the best. Now, the world stage is open for a new dominator. The tide is changing for teams when it comes to overseas performances, with New Zealand, England and now India winning away. The question is: Who will be the next dominators of ‘World’ cricket?