End of an era


W

hen Michael Vaughan spearheaded a stunning English conquest of Australia at home in 2005, the consensus was that a sleeping giant had been prodded, that a price had to be paid. England did, by losing 5-0 in Australia the following season. Four years on, with Andrew Strauss masterminding another 2-1 triumph at home, history has repeated itself. England have regained the Ashes, but no longer does the cricketing world fear an Aussie backlash. How the mighty have fallen! For the first time since the ICC Test rankings were introduced in 2003, Australia have tumbled out of the top-two, to a modest fourth. Given the personnel at their disposal, it is difficult to see Ricky Ponting’s men climbing the charts in a hurry and re-establishing themselves as the ones to beat.

England’s stirring success this time is all the more remarkable because their talismans four years back, Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff, played no more than fleeting parts. This was a victory for team spirit and cohesiveness, for a never-say-die attitude that was hitherto an out-and-out Australian trait, and for the captaincy and inspirational skills of Strauss, skipper almost by default and who has now established himself as a true leader of men. In a series replete with defining moments, the decisive passage of play came in the final hour of the first Test in Cardiff. Jimmy Anderson and Monty Panesar, the last names one would associate with batting heroics, defied Australia with composure and poise as England escaped with a draw. In the past, Australian teams have responded with fangs bared and venom spitting; this outfit didn’t have either the fire or the skills paraded consistently by legends of the past, and therefore suffered the consequences.

The McGraths, Warnes, Haydens and Gilchrists that helped Ponting tide over the 2005 humiliation have long hung up their boots, and their replacements are, understandably, nowhere in the same league. Against this backdrop, it is difficult to see Ponting rallying his troops around. Having secured a dubious place in history by becoming only the second Australian skipper to lose two Ashes campaigns away, the Tasmanian will constantly look over the shoulder to see if the axeman cometh. Three defeats in their last five series — away to India, at home to new number one South Africa and now in the Ashes — would emphatically suggest the end of an era. And the dawn of a new one, exciting and full of possibilities!

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