May 5, 2007:
Australia was overwhelmingly the best run side at the 2007 World Cup. As ever the deeds of champions can be instructive. By no means did Ricky Ponting have a bunch of supermen at his disposal. To the contrary the Australians looked vulnerable, arriving with their tails between their legs, not an easy position for a kangaroo to accomplish. Defeat in their home one-day trophy had been followed by an annihilation in the land of the long grey cloud, a turn of events the Kiwis seemed to enjoy. Although the opposition did not appear all that demanding, the Aussies seemed quite capable of beating themselves.
Instead the favourites stormed to a third successive title. Along the way they were hardly extended, certainly not in the later stages of the tournament. By the end it was clear that Australia was not merely the strongest side. It was also the best run cricket community. Arguably the Australian system is the only one that works. Everyone else is floundering. A study of the results achieved by their rivals in others sports confirms the point. Most of them could not organise a milkshake party in a dairy.
Kensington Oval, Bardados taken during the 2007 World Cup Cricket Final. Photo by ROxBo at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Simplicity is the cornerstone of Australian cricket. To sit at a selection table at any club is to listen to a lot of common sense and precious little hocus pocus. Batsmen scoring runs can expect to rise through the ranks. Bowlers taking wickets are also promoted. Not that places are easily surrendered. All twenty senior clubs in Sydney field five sides every Saturday, and all of them want to win and yearn to improve. At the end of the season the top 6 sides in each grade play in finals to determine the ” major premier” Practices are compulsory and matches are long and hard. It is a game for fit, hungry young men, all of whom feel they are five hundreds away from Test cricket.
Not that ability is ignored in this focus on performance. Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke were plucked promptly from the pack because observers sensed they they had been given a special talent. Brad Hodge, Stuart Clark and Michael Hussey rose more slowly because they lacked that little touch of magic. But they did not give up. Nor were they ever written off. Instead they worked on their games and gradually built records that could not be ignored. Elsewhere players tend to be categorised at an early age. Neil McKenzie is a case in point.
Aggression is also a factor in the Australian domination. Although willing to tolerate a few cautious opening batsmen and the odd canny seamer, Australians generally prefer adventurous cricketers. The direct approach is instilled in every eager ankle-biter.Another nation might not have dared to gamble on. Shaun Tait and Brad Hogg. As far as the Australians were concerned the greater risk lay with selecting predictable trundlers and flat finger spinners. Tait could bowl at the speed of light and Hogg could turn the ball both ways. Admittedly they could be wayward but they had the raw materials and their coaches could provide the polish. Ponting and company reckoned they might disrupt an innings with sudden surges of wickets. Sri Lanka and New Zealand had the same idea. Everyone else tried to contain.
Australians enjoy sport and refuse to turn every sport into a form of torture, which has long been the English custom. “Ave a go year mug!”, the old familiar call, could serve as the battlecry of the antipodean game. Moreover the team comes first. Egos are contained in the rooms. Accordingly the Aussies have always been able to hunt as a pack. Nor are they scared of success.
Australia also plays intelligent cricket, a fact that seems to elude a home captain who ought to be put in a locked room with the Vice-Chancellor of KZN University, Percy Sonn, Bheki Cele, Winnie Mandela and any other dimwit readers may care to mention. By the way the best way to save lives is to sack all these political escorts and hire more nurses. Ponting and pals understand the inner workings of the game in the same way a skilled mechanic understands an engine. Upon reaching his hundred in the final, Adam Gilchrist pointed towards a squash ball he had inserted in his batting glove. Shane Warne was likewise always trying to improve. Glenn McGrath’s yorker to Jacques Kallis was a fitting farewell from a master craftsman. He is a typical Australian cricketer, a boy from the bush steeped in the game who played exceptionally smart cricket throughout his career. The same applied to Warne, whose cleverness was hidden beneath a brazen exterior.
None of these players was born great, merely with a gift that was nurtured by the players and the community they joined. Odd as it might sound considering the noise they sometimes make (it is the same with their galahs, a bird just as brightly plumed and vociferous), but Australian cricketers are humble enough to respect the basics of the game. They don’t bother much with trickery or improvisation.
Power has also been a factor. Long before the tournament began,, the Australians realised the importance of clearing short boundaries and dictating terms in the middle overs of these matches.. Matthew Hayden and Andrew Symonds provided the brute force, Gilchrist the enterprise. None of them played foolish shots. None of them is a mere one-punch slugger. None of the other sides fielded as dangerous a line-up. Andrew Flintoff needed to hit out but was burdened by responsibility.
Luck has also played a part. As far as cricket is concerned, Australia is a simple country. Most rivals are undergoing all manner of upheavals. Inevitably civil wars, religious revivals, racial pressures, national conflicts, corruption and extreme emotion take a toll on the players. Apart from the Kiwis, none of the other teams enjoys such patriotic and uncompromising support. Australia does not look inwards. Everything is geared towards achieving the recognition relished by a remote country still finding its feet in a bemused world
Altogether it was too much for the rest. Weaknesses have been exposed. It is a kindness disguised as a cruelty. Unless rivals respond strongly to this revelation, the Australians will win again in 2011.