Today 15 men will walk out on to the Melbourne Cricket Ground in front of 90,000 baying fans and decide whether now is Australia’s time. After nearly two decades of unparalelled dominance, and of fighting back from the brink before, this looks like their last hope to stave off the inevitable march back to the land of cricketing mortality.
Since the end of the domestic season earlier this year against India, when batsmen from both sides put together fairly handsome scores, typical of high summer in Australia, the baggy green has started to look a little faded. In series against the West Indies, India, New Zealand and the first test against South Africa the top six are split cleanly into two even packs: those who’ve improved or maintained their averages, and those who’ve done the reverse.
Ponting 40.7 (vs his career average of 56.7), Hussey 35.8 (vs. 61.5) and particularly Hayden 23.5 (vs 51.3) have all slid backwards while Clarke 48.2 (vs 46.9,) Symonds 44.9 (vs 42.2) and most notably Katich 59.5 (43.5) have improved. Unfortunately the three missing out aren’t nearly making up for those cashing in, with the difference being 49.5. This means Australia’s top six, until recently the most formidible run machine in test cricket, is effectively playing one (extremely good) batter down.
When you couple that with a bowling attack even more out of sorts – today Hauritz and Siddle (?!) are pairing up with an increasingly manageable Lee and sole real threat Johnson – you have a side that looks merely competent. That is, able to bully minnows like New Zealand and the West indies into submission, but when placed against the other test titans South Africa and India (both of whom have a far more attractive blend of youth and experience) start to look very threadbare indeed.
As they’ve proved time and again, whether in the context of a session, match, series or era, this Australian side is at their most dangerous when they look down and out. And few venues have smiled upon Australia like the MCG.
As S Rajesh notes they’re on a 9-0 streak at the venue and the badly out-of-sorts Hayden has scored centuries in six of the past seven boxing day tests. If ever they were going to find a venue to resuscitate them, Melbourne’s it.
This promises to be an absolutely riveting day’s cricket. Australia will prove, over the next five days, whether they have it in them to maintain this magical age, or whether we get a return to the ’80s-style of several teams hustling for the top spot.
That time is remembered as one of the greatest in the game’s history, and while we seem somewhat lacking in the talent (and, more depressingly, the personalities) to match it, competitive matches and series like those we’ve witnessed these past few months can only be great for test cricket as a whole.