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The Rediff Special/Ashish Magotra

Baggy greens in the pink

May 04, 2005

Australia's recent annihilation of New Zealand completed a year during which they won 10 Tests and suffered just one defeat. Their victims include Sri Lanka (1 win, 1 draw) , New Zealand (4 wins, 1 draw), Pakistan (3 wins)  and India (2 wins, 1 loss, 1 draw).

Australia win the ICC Test World ChampionshipThe men from 'Down Under' are now in the best possible shape to enable Ponting to do what W G Grace failed to achieve in 1891-92: hold the Ashes for a record ninth successive series.

The ICC Test rankings have been criticised -- justly -- but even in its flawed state, it tells a story of incredible dominance.

Australia, thus, tops the table with 132 points. The distance between the leader and number two -- England -- is 22 points. Yet, the distance between number two, England, and number six, New Zealand, is just 13 points.

That tells you that numbers 2-6 are so tightly bunched up together, but there is clear daylight between this pack, and Team Australia -- which, incidentally, has three batsmen and three bowlers in the ICC top ten player rankings.

David Kendix, the man behind the International Cricket Council team and individual world rankings, reckons that Australia's Test dominance compares with the best four teams of the post-war era - Bradman's Invincibles, Richie Benaud's Australia team of the late Fifties and the West Indies teams of the early Sixties and mid Eighties.

But was the dominance of any of these teams as overwhelming as that of the current Australian team?

Former Australian skipper Greg Chappell believes that Test cricket is so sick in almost every nation but Australia, that its only chance to flourish would be if the world's best team fell back to the field.

"The one thing the West Indians did [in the '80s] was create an environment where we all knew if we were going to compete we had to get better. Thankfully, Australian cricket 20-odd years ago made some decisions to improve themselves and produce players who could compete at that level. I don't see anyone doing that now."

The first and most important decision taken by the Australians was to return to the basics. And they were prepared to wait for the results. They decided to establish the Australian cricket academy and also set up cricket academies in every state to help nurture talent.

The changes eventually reflected in the way Australia played their cricket. For instance, Australia bats in Test cricket the way most teams do in one-day cricket -- and this frenetic pace of run-getting has translated into more wins, because the batsmen give the bowlers, led by McGrath and Warne, more time to bowl the opposition out.

These changes in tactics were well thought out and implemented -- and it became possible because of having a chain of leadership that knew exactly what they were trying to achieve. The clarity of thought forced the players to respond in kind.

Australia's dominance has seen other teams look to adopt similar measures in hope of aping the success. Every Test team worth its salt has increased its run-rate as compared to what it was in 1995.

Australia have gone from 3.10 in 1995 to 3.96 in 2005. India, the only team to really compete against the Aussies, has also started scoring faster; from 3.01 in 1995 to 3.46 in 2005. England went from 2.79 in 1995 to 2.98 in 2005 (3 Tests only) but in 2004 their scoring rate was as high as 3.50, which is when they won 11 of their 13 Tests.

Pakistan have gone from 2.80 to 3.48, South Africa from 2.92 to 3.27 and Sri Lanka from 2.71 to 3.2.

New Zealand (from 2.49 to 3.12), West Indies (3.33 to 3.14) and Zimbabwe (from 2.79 to 2.67) are the teams with the lowest run-rates at present -- interestingly they are also at the bottom of the ICC Test rankings.

Is it just pure coincidence or does it point to the fact that scoring faster is going to lead to more victories?

Australia has obviously hit on a tactic that works; the teams that are taking a leaf out of the Aussie playbook are getting better, while those who refuse to learn are falling by the wayside.

In this sense, Australia has begun setting the agenda on the international playing field.

The fielding of the World champions has been dynamic, they hold catches that other teams rarely would. So much so that when catches are dropped, commentators invariably mention that had it been Australia the batsman would have been back in the pavilion cooling his heels.

The fielding revolution however cannot be attributed to Australia alone. South Africa played a major role in that as well. But knowing that a mistake against Australia can often mean a lost match, other teams have pulled up their socks as well.

Adam Gilchrist's success as a keeper-batsman has resulted in other teams looking for clones, and that has spelt doom for the specialist wicket keeper. No team in world cricket wants a keeper who can only keep, he HAS to bat.

Steve Waugh institutionalized the mantra -- go for a win at all costs, always.

In the last 50 matches that Australia has played there have been only eight draws and six losses. The draw has become obsolete. We have seen matches increasingly being decided in 3-4 days.

For the moment, Australia rests pretty on the top. Technically, it is always possible to keep improving and the Australian players already want the back room staff to be strengthened with the inclusion of a bowling coach.

Australia's day of reckoning will come only when Glenn McGrath or Shane Warne finish, or when opposition batsmen find a way to dominate them. Till then, the 'baggy greens' are going to face no competition.

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