Thursday, January 01, 2009

Aftermath of 16 part 1 versus Aftermath of 16 part 2

Twice in the current decade an Australian Test team has won 16 Tests on the trot only to be stopped by India from winning a 17th. On both occasions the 16th win had also come against India. However there could be no greater contrast in a losing team's acceptance of the supremacy of the winners than those 2 occasions of 16th consecutive wins.

Mumbai 2001 demoralised Indian fans and made them lose any hope of their team salvaging even a draw from the mighty Aussies under Steve Waugh. The next match, Eden 2001, has unquestionable cricketing merits but it is sweeter to Indian supporters because it came after the mauling that was Mumbai 2001.

Sydney 2008, on the other hand, was infamous. I am not referring to the much discussed non-cricketing mud slinging associated with the match. I am only referring to the unusually large number of umpiring decisions that went against India in that crucial test match, some thing that cannot be refuted by the 'it all evens out in the end' argument simply because there were so many of them going in one direction in a single pivotal game. [An instance of what could have been: India could have drawn or even won that Test and become the first team to defeat Aussies in a series Down Under ahead of South Africa].

While the Australian hunger for a win and their attitude of not giving the match uptill the last ball was amply on display in that Sydney'08 win, it was not accepted as a deserved win for Aussies even amongst their wise & sporting home fans, leave alone with the Indian team and cricket fans (including yours truly). One of questions I asked in my rant after Sydney 2008 was:
“Is the Australian team confident of beating India fair & square – even in Perth?”
Perth was the venue of the match following Sydney 2008. Subsequent developments might well prove that I had been foolish in casting apersions on the ability of a team that has just won 16 Test matches in a row (Not that it would have taught me any lessons. Thanks to my habit of predicting results / form on this blog, I have a chequered history of having egg on my face with predictions). I do not remember my exact frame of mind while making that post but I distinctly remember that the question was not asked in a fit of rage and that I believed in that question. India's first innings total at Sydney and Kumble's composure after the match, and not misplaced rage at being forced to lose, had a lot to do with that belief.

Sydney 2008 may have been Australia's 16th win in a row for the 2nd time but it looked a lot different from the first sequence. Back in Jan 2008 they were still a great team but looked more beatable than the team that lost at Eden 2001. Australia are set to play another Test match at Sydney on 3rd of January, 2009 and I think this is a good time to revisit that question. How do I stand today after having raised the question?

Here's a study:

Aftermath of 16 part 2
Since that 16th consecutive win at Sydney on 6th January, Australia have played 13 Test matches till end of the year 2008 and here are their results:

4 wins, 5 losses, 4 draws.

The 4 wins have come against the 7th & 8th ranked teams - NZ & WI.
3 of the losses have occured at home venues.

Aftermath of 16 part 1
Now we look at the 13 matches they played after Eden 2001:
8 wins, 2 losses, 3 draws.

One of the 2 losses was in the 3rd Test of that India 2001 series against post-Eden Indians and the other was against England attributable mainly to a sporting declaration followed by a marvellous fifth-day knock by England's Mark Butcher.

A note about the 3 draws would help complete the picture: Contrary to popular belief that Indians in 2003-04 were the best performing visitors in Australia in this decade (till SA this year), the NZ team that played in those 3 draws should be rightfully given that credit. True they do not have a famous win like Adelaide 2003 to show for their efforts. But we need to remember that the Kiwis were playing a full-strength Aussie team including Warne-McGrath and yet they pushed Australia to a stage where they had to bat rather well on the 5th day of the final Test to save the series (after Warne had scored 99 in the 1st innings!).

I have been a lifelong admirer of the Australians from a rival camp. But memories of the Australian team (including Gilly dearest) violently celebrating Sydney 2008 win has kept pricking me like a thorn, just like India's loss against Zimbabwe in 1999 World Cup and the rain-forced abandonment of last day's play of Chennai 2004 Test against Aussies. That video of last moments of Sydney 2008 brought back some unpleasant memories. But the post-Sydney'08 performance summary of the Australian team amply demonstrates that they have not got near enough to another such hysteric celebration since the 6th of Jaunuary 2008.

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