Bouncing Kangaroos land knockout punch on England

Bouncing Kangaroos land knockout punch on England

“Knocked him over!” Bill Lawry’s hyper-excited voice might have resonated through millions of drawing rooms after Mitchell Johnson castled Jonny Bairstow at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Thursday. It also conveyed the turnaround in Australia’s fortunes after a difficult year, marking perhaps the most compelling cricket story of 2013.

Australia, who ruled world cricket for well over a decade from 1995, had said goodbye to some great names. Mike Hussey, the last of the old guard too had bid adieu, leaving the Aussies in the hands of a completely new-look team under Michael Clarke. What a dreadful start to a new era they had!

India have never been an easy touring place, especially if you are coming from Australia or England. Batsmen will find the ball turning square on slow, dust bowls, demanding a substantial tweak in your technique. Australia encountered the same set of hazards when they visited India early this year, and unfortunately they were utterly unprepared.

India took revenge for their 4-0 white wash Down Under in 2012 in emphatic fashion, inflicting a similar margin defeat on the visitors. The Aussies’ next stop was England – a long leg that comprised the Champions Trophy and the Ashes. They fared poorly in the final edition of the Champions Trophy, and fared even worse in the Ashes. Between the ICC’s once-marquee one-day tournament and the Ashes, Aussies had also fired their coach – Mickey Arthur, and brought in Darren Lehmann.

But the malaise was far too deep-rooted than to be cured just by a change of coach. They lost the England leg of Ashes 3-0. During that period they lost seven of the nine Tests, something unheard of in the long history of Australian cricket even during the dark ages of the mid-80s.

Was it the end of Australia as a cricketing nation? Not exactly. Lehmann and his team assiduously planned for the return Ashes series, even though it looked a tad thoughtless to have 10 Ashes Tests in one year. It also gave less time for Australia to rebound from their travails. The Aussies made the first right step in re-drafting Craig McDermott as their bowling coach, and selecting a settled and injury-free attack in Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris.

The move clicked in stunning fashion. They ran roughshod over unsuspecting and overconfident England batsmen, who termed themselves so embarrassingly as ‘assassins’, and by they time they realised it, Australia had taken a 3-0 lead to regain the Urn.

A strong Australia is a must to sustain the balance of world cricket, and under Clarke and Lehmann they have offered plenty of promise, and the hope of an exciting 2014. But England, who dominated New Zealand at the start of the year with an Ashes win at home to boot, has hit a rough, rather unexpectedly and it has nothing to do with their defeat in the Ashes series. For almost three seasons, they had a group of core players who played a massive role in their rise to the top spot in Tests.

Skipper Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Graeme Swann and Matt Prior have been the pillars on which England built their team under Andy Flower. But Cook hardly resembled the batsman who amassed tons of runs through yogic concentration and risk-free stroke making. Trott could no longer withstand the pressures of touring, and left home after the first Test, Pietersen, who completed his 100 Tests, never was in his usual dominant self, Swann retired after the Ashes defeat and Prior was a pale shadow of his confident self behind and in front of the stumps.

The wheels came off the English juggernaut in a flash – from a smart, hard-working unit they slipped a few rungs below – a team bogged down as much by a tireless opposition as by self doubts. Indeed, England need fresh ideas and fresh faces if they are to challenge the big boys next year.

The number one Test spot remained with South Africa, though not by a big margin, and the defeat to Pakistan in Abu Dhabi was a rude jolt to their pride and reputation of being an all-weather team. They did avenge that defeat at home but those two series revealed that the Proteas couldn’t relax – Australia are climbing back – gradually yet surely – and India have survived the transition phase with aplomb. As they move into the next year, the South Africans will be without their ace all-rounder Jacques Kallis, who announced his retirement last week.

The year continued to be one of disappointment for the West Indies, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Windies sank without trace in India during the farewell series of Sachin Tendulkar, while the Lankans were crushed 3-0 by the Aussies Down Under. They beat Bangladesh but still remain a side that will require a lot of refurbishment.
Bangladesh were haunted by the admittance of Mohammad Ashraful of match-fixing, while New Zealand finally saw some light, beating Windies at home after a series of shoddy shows.

Ross Taylor and Brendon McCullum resurfacing as batsmen, and Jesse Ryder returning to the cricket field after that serious head injury raised the Kiwi cheer. But the year belonged to Australia for their strong-willed turning of the wheel of fortune.


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