y2k_rambo >> y2k_rambo's Blogs >> Australia:Beware the Wounded lion

Posted by y2k_rambo at 3/15/2009 4:40:27 PM       
    If there's one thing Australia understands better than any other team, it's the merit of thought-provoking self-analysis. When Australia are on a winning streak everything is done to maintain the high standard, and when they lose no stone is left unturned, including a frank appraisal of their performance, to correct mistakes. Contrast that with the recent efforts of England and South Africa.

    In 2005, England produced the biggest boil-over since the introduction of automatic kettles to regain the Ashes and then went on a celebratory binge to mark the occasion. While England celebrated, Australia cleverly regrouped, and within 15 months the Ashes were back in Ricky Ponting's hands after a spectacular series whitewash.

    In late 2008, South Africa conjured up two stunning come-from-behind wins to steal the series from a labouring Australian team. Then in the return series, with a few changes in personnel and a more aggressive approach, Ponting's team masterminded the biggest turnaround since power steering was invented to flatten a South African team that was still dreaming about the winning hit at the MCG.

    Those two performances are a tribute to Ponting's leadership. On a number of occasions he's displayed a penchant for honest evaluation that has proved to be the ideal remedy for overcoming problems, whether they be personal or collective. Where Ponting drives his team harder when they are successful, both England and South Africa have been guilty of resting on their laurels. The lesson for all teams is: beware of a beaten Australia; they're as dangerous as a wounded lion.

    How did the fortunes of both Australia and South Africa change so quickly and dramatically?

    Two things should never be underestimated in the game of cricket: the value of an infusion of new blood, and a positive state of mind. One quite often leads to the other.

    A comparison of the performances of a pair of players on each team against two from the other is the best way to explain the dramatic turnaround: Phil Hughes with Neil McKenzie, and Mitchell Johnson compared to Morne Morkel.

    McKenzie is the archetypal old-approach opener, one who has seen all the pitfalls and bats as though one is about to open up right before his eyes. Hughes is a typical new boy, full of enthusiasm and positive vibes, and he hasn't yet seen a delivery he didn't fancy. While McKenzie prefers to leave numerous balls to reach the keeper, Hughes has a lust for runs and adventure at the crease. The latter approach has, by far, the more damaging affect on an opposing bowler's psyche.

    Johnson and Morkel both entered the Test arena as young pace bowlers with a lot of potential and a hint of batting ability. Johnson has improved rapidly in both aspects of the game, thriving in the spotlight that has shone on him since he was prematurely thrust into the spearhead role. Morkel on the other hand is still only threatening to become a lethal Test bowler, and his batting has gone backwards faster than an Australian Rules boundary umpire. Johnson has become a team leader while Morkel is now wallowing in the anonymity reserved for bench players and laboratory assistants.

    In the lead-up to the series, South Africa talked about grandiose plans but lacked the nerve to adapt to situations as they worsened by the minute. What happened on the field didn't match their fighting words or the action that was unfolding. Australia on the other hand were revitalised by the enthusiasm of new inductees and powered by an aggressive approach designed to overcome past faults. When confronted by an Australian side that launched a concerted attack, the South Africans reacted like rabbits caught in a spotlight.

    South Africa's response to this amazing form reversal has been to make changes, which is admirable, except that they haven't addressed a major failing. Having introduced fresh blood, they put in charge a man who is partly responsible for their current predicament. Jacques Kallis' refusal to react positively when the Australians challenged his authority as a batsman is part of the reason why South Africa weren't able to turn the tide when their innings was unravelling.

    Ponting may be conservative at times when placing a field or choosing a change Bowler, but one can never accuse him of not setting the tone with a bat in his hand. He has also set the bar high for leadership in times of crisis, and any team wanting to seriously challenge Australia could do worse than follow his example of hard work and critical self-appraisal.

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