Dusk is a hard thing to accept,especially when the day has been glorious. But this is what the Australian cricket team has to come to terms with,it has no choice but to do so. All the mighty warriors have left,barring two. Steve Waughs world-beating team,its heritage is finally over. Its time now to face up to the fact that defeats are now not only possible,but quite probable.
The team that Waugh built has consistently been rated as one of the three best cricket teams ever,along with Bradmans 1948 Australia team,and Clive Lloyds 1984 West Indies. The Waugh twins,Matthew Hayden,Justin Langer,Damien Martyn,Ricky Ponting,Adam Gilchrist,Shane Warne,Glenn McGrath,Brett Lee. Only Ponting and Lee remain,and of them,Ponting is now beleaguered by media and public.
Australia will return. If for no other reason than the simple fact that there is no better sporting nation in the world,given the size of its population. And also the spirit that Australian sportsmen seem to be born with. The most amazing quality of Waughs team was the apparent inability of any of its members to consider the fact that they could ever be defeated. And he rubbed that into the teams DNA. On the way to England for an Ashes tour,the team stopped over at Gallipoli in Turkey,where thousands of Australian soldiers had died in a key First World War battle. There would have been no hope in hell for England in that series.
In the most impossible of situations,Warne and McGrath would bowl with the same deadly cheery aggression,and Hayden and Gilchrist would set the boundaries ablaze. No one ever saw an Australian face droop,or shoulders hang. The only man who ever looked worried was Steve Waugh,brooding and chewing his nails. But he was the man for the most impossible of situations. If you were to choose a batsman to come in for your World XI at 35 for 4 and 467 to chase,whom would you choose,from all the players available to you from 1876 onwards? Steve Waugh would be the one,by a large majority.
Australia will return. But the period from dusk to dawn will be tough hours. The fans will be unforgiving,the selectors impatient,the media unfair. But it has been done many times before. Clive Lloyd built a lethal team out of the post-Sobers-Kanhai ruins. Allan Border built his team from scratch,after the 70s greats departed,leaving a generational void. It takes a few years,given the existence of talent that can be nurtured to greatness. But more than the time required,it needs grit and self-belief. Will the Australian selectors stay with the captain and his team,or will they behave like shareholders who dump or beatify a company based on its quarterly results? We will know the answer to that in the coming months.
The hardest thing to accept in the world is the reality that you can lose,that things may not be going your way,that others can be better than you at what you do. And this after years of making a habit of winning,of walking out every time into the field knowing that you are part of one of historys best teams,that you and your mates are the best in the world,that your destiny is to decimate and triumph. One has no idea whats going through Pontings head currently,but one can feel for him. He must be remembering those halcyon days,and looking at the faces of his team members,trying to locate that élan that he saw in the eyes of those gone.
Ponting is one of crickets great batsmen,and at one time was expected to cross Tendulkars record of Test centuries. He has fought alcoholism and a history of rowdy behaviour (he was beaten up in a Kolkata bar for eve-teasing during the 1998 tour) to be a disciplined and fine captain (yes,there are charges of cheating against him,but our finest captain Mr Ganguly would not have behaved otherwise in such situations). This is the greatest test of his abilities. We in India feel vicarious pleasure every time Australia loses. But the fact of the matter is that they were better than anyone else. Just as its clear that they are not so good any more. Thats what Australia has to come to terms with,and see how they can go from ordinary to extraordinary once more.