Vantage point

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Why the fightback never happened

So now England has taken a 2-1 lead and the Australian "backlash" is still nowhere close to materialising. After the narrow defeat at Edgbaston, people expected the Aussies to fight back like the proverbial and cliched cornered tiger. It was expected that the Aussies, with their backs to the wall, would come out throwing punches, and put England in their rightful place.

The Australians have made England fight tooth and nail for each victory, but there is no hint of a "backlash" or a "fightback". There will be murmurs down under of a fightback at the Oval to square the series and retain the urn. That may just happen, but I find it unlikely, given that Mcgrath will almost certainly miss the last test, and the Oval is a very draw-able ground, so the groundsman will prepare a dozing flat track. The odds are heavily stacked against the Aussies.

So why did the fightback never completely materialise? We have seen how the Indian team, after losing the Mumbai test to Australia in 3 days in 2001, went on to win the next two matches and win the series. We have seen how the Pakistan team, dejected and down and out in India earlier this year, fought back to draw a nearly-lost match and even win a nearly-drawn one to square the series.

The absence of a strong fightback is actually a glowing testimony to the way Australia play their cricket. What has made them world champions is the fact that they maintain the level of their game at a high peg. And they do so consistently, making it so difficult to beat them. So if a team always gives a 100 percent, it is at a loss when faced with a situation to give more. Other teams like India and Pakistan often play below their potential, and so there is scope for them to actually raise the level of their game, and come out looking like "cornered" tigers. They are tigers which were pushed into a corner because they were napping, and so after waking up, they roar and fight back, giving scope for ample drama.

Australia, no matter how much they are criticised for their game in this series, have simple been outplayed and beaten by a better team, which threw up better individual performances. We recall the repeated 500-plus scores that Australia posted over the past half decade without really evaluating the quality of the opposition attack. It's not like Matthew Hayden has forgotten how to bat. It is just that he is up against some really good bowling now. Lee and warne have not forgotten how to bowl. The English batsmen have just played them very well.

So you see, Australia always put in a great effort. If the opposition does better, they can't be blamed for not trying. However we are so used to watching other teams play below par many times and then raising their game for the crucial matches that we assume that the same is happening with Australia whenever they lose.

Aussie fans would still be hoping for a fightback. I would bet against it. What could happen though is, England, exhausted mentally from three close games, might let their game drop a bit. But considering what is at stake, even that is unlikely.