Since the turn of the millennium the Australians have been less than superhuman precisely twice :- India2001 and Ashes2005. When I saw the Australian playing eleven for the Adelaide Test in the morning today and found Glenn McGrath's name in it, I was instantly reminded of the second one.
Cricinfo's Andrew Miller had done a great service to his country's chances of retaining the urn by bluffing the world, and importantly the Aussie think tank, by disguising this eerie premonition as a match preview:
For 24 more hours at least, the parallels remain. By tomorrow evening, we should have a better idea of how "Ashes: The Sequel" is panning out. Will Australia's bowlers, lacking the services of Glenn McGrath through a foot injury, be put to the sword on a flat batting track by England's rampant batsmen? Or will Ricky Ponting's Australians demonstrate, once and for all, that the result in 2005 really was a "blip on the radar"?
Yes, it's the Edgbaston scenario all over again. For the second series running, Australia have an opportunity to crush the hype and expectation almost before the contest has begun. A correct call at the toss, and a chance to take first use of another blameless Adelaide batting track, would go some way to doing just that. But should Andrew Flintoff get his call right this time (not even this evening's freakish thunderstorm will persuade Ponting to repeat his error of 2005) and England's batsmen respond accordingly, there could yet be some mileage in the 2006-07 edition.
It is quite possible for McGrath to have gained full fitness over the time that passed between Andrew's article and the selection of Australian playing XI this morning. I just felt though that perhaps the Australian selectors taken Andrew's tongue-in-cheek views on the uncanny similarities in preludes to the two 2nd Tests a little more seriously than did even the Barmy Army.
The wise men were apparently thinking of wishful ways to prevent recurrence of that bad dream from 2005, rather than concentrating on winning the second Test at hand, when they picked a dubiously fit 36 year old bowler for a critically important 5-day match. At the end of 1st day's play that feeling only tends to get stronger.
Make no mistake, McGrath can very well nullify these doubts and manage to perform well in the match. He can regain his familiar oppressive touch right from tomorrow morning - or even in England's second essay. That, however, would not prove in any way that his inclusion in this Test was an unnecessary risk taken by a bowling side with as good a reserve bench as any.
Since the Eden Test of the 2001 series in India (again a 2nd Test) Australian captains have stubbornly refused to make their rivals follow on, however large their lead may be. The Gabba Test was a case in point. They refused to shut England out of the game by enforcing the follow on inspite of having taken a 450-odd lead and having fresh bowlers after England's tiny 1st innings of 157. Tsk tsk.....perhaps we should remind those forgetful Dad's Armymen that back when they were in their early 30's, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid had overwhelmed a 270 run lead to create a winning situation and not a 470!
In not making opponents follow on irrespective of situations, as also in today's inexplicable inclusion of a successful-in1st-Test-but-injured/unfit McGrath in the 2nd Test, maybe the Australians are finally showing their chinks like other mortals. It just may so happen that while revelling in tough situations they still manage to get a little overwhelmed deep down in the rarest of rare cases when fate takes the rival's side (Eden 2001 and Edgbaston 2005 certainly fit that description).
But wait - so would you and I! Oh what a relief, they are human after all. Too bad for their opponents that those chinks (read normal behaviour patterns) are found in aspects that are way too secondary in terms of cricketing relevance.
Think of it from another angle and you'll see the ill effects of losing too less here - the losses tend to scar you that much more! Maybe the Australians should lose just a little more.
Tailpiece: You are advised to stop here if you are an Australian supporter superstitious enough to agree with your team in those decisions criticised above.
Speaking of premonitions and superstitions, I had once painstakingly drafted a mysterious 'K-sound theory' based on a pattern emerging from Aussie defeats. If you have the heart and the time you can catch up on it here.
At the moment the Australians are once again running into two stumbing blocks early in Ashes 2006-07: Kollingwood and Kevin. Make that three - Kallous in McGrath's heel.