When Ricky Ponting held aloft the Border-Gavaskar trophy earlier this year in Australia, he quickly tucked it under his arm held it close. India had put a very, very good fight, and the Australian fans could sense that 20 years of absolute dominance was coming close to an end.
Australia, it must be said, has had the best of fortune in recent years. The many superstars produced in the last two decades has been phenomenal. Not since the West Indies in the 70's and 80's has a country created ad nausem such great players. However, this factory line of stars is slowing shutting down. What is most alarming, is the lack of quality bowlers Australia is able to show in light of losing such heavy weights such as McGrath, Warne, Gillespie, McGill. Australia can only rightfully say that Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson are their only true above average bowlers.
The batting is still very strong, but in test cricket, to win requires 20 wickets. The question is where are Australia going to get these wickets? The old adage "Bowlers win matches, batsman only save them" is becoming more truer each day. In the past, Australia could always count on McGrath or Warne to get these wickets on any occasion. When the chips were down, Taylor, Waugh and Ponting could call up these stalwarts to get the job done. Now Ponting has only Lee and Johnson, and as much as these two give it 100 percent they just don't have that X factor to accomplish the task.
The recent loss to South Africa last night was a great example of the hole Australia are in. Perth has always been Australia's fortress. A quick and bouncy pitch, a pitch suited to horizontal bat play and a pitch requiring great nerve. A top quality Australian bowling attack would trounce and destroy all teams they played here. Over the last two tests played at the WACA, both India (a team who traditionally has struggled on these pitches) and South Africa (chasing down the second highest 2nd Innings lead) have won convincingly.
A quick glance at the domestic cricket competition shows there is not much coming up as well. Australia's contracted players is a list flush with young and experienced batsman, loaded with tip of the tongue great players. Bowlers on the other hand are short on great quality and are either one-day specialists (Bracken, Hilfenhaus), elder statesmen (Nofke) or untested and fingers-crossed spinners (Casson and Kreja). Merv Hughes and David Boon would have a heart attack if either Lee or Johnson were spelled.
So, how will a cricket mad nation cope with seeing the national team, a nation that has become so use to winning, and easily, they were a better bet than Phar Lap? The nation will enjoy this, the nation will finally get the close, hard fought games they got in the 80's. The Australian public might even get they 'underdog' tag they love so much.
The Australian cricket sides starting with Allan Border to Rick Ponting, culturally and physically had reached a standard of cricket that is very hard to maintain. They set sights so high they were almost only playing against themselves. Like all things however, there is a beginning and an end. The end is nigh, but tradition shows that sport in Australia is always emerging anew, with new intensity, skills, passion and a desire to improve the game further. Be it Rugby, Surfing, Swimming, Australian sportsmen and women play to win and a new Australian legacy may emerge sooner rather than later.