The seven-wicket win over New Zealand at the MCG on Sunday is a story of a comeback people will take for granted, especially because the team is Australia.
They have been a cut above the rest since West Indies lost their stranglehold and ever since passed so many milestones that people here are not euphoric to say the least after winning their fifth World Cup title.
Familiarity breeds contempt, they say. But it is not contempt, just a matter of fact, clinical, professional approach and execution on the field that people are so used to associating with Australian sides which is back and the country can once again go back to their beds, sloshed and snug.
At the World T20 Championships in Bangladesh last year the signs that Australia were once again taking baby steps to the pinnacle were evident. It did not reflect on the field, they bowed out of the group stages, but the comfort in the dressing room was back. Shane Watson had told HT how the dressing room was not claustrophobic anymore, players were eager to express themselves and David Warner getting tons of runs in Test cricket was just the sign of things to come.|
Mickey Arthur wasn’t the coach anymore, Darren Lehmann had taken over. It was amazing how one man could make so much difference to a side which was plundered by India, thumped by England, and as defending champions, went out of the Champions Trophy without a win.
The rift in the dressing room highlighted by the Homeworkgate where Mitchell Johnson, Usman Khawaja, Pat Cummins and Shane Watson were made to sit out for disciplinary reasons because they had not written down their preparations for the Mohali Test suggested the beginning of an end, somewhat similar to what India were going through during the days of Greg Chappell.
The players responded to the change with such significant performances that skipper Michael Clarke had to acknowledge them and rework his man-management skills heading towards a unified dressing room. But then this Australia team had always performed better in limited overs with George Bailey as captain but selectors going for Clarke meant the captain had to warm the bench.
Any other team could have fallen apart with players trying to cope in the same format with two different philosophies in leadership but not this bunch of exceptionally talented cricketers.
A simple example is Mitchell Johnson. One of the best exponents of left-arm swing bowling has to come in first change because Mitchell Starc is younger and faster and equally if not more dangerous with the new ball. Clarke now acknowledges Johnson’s sacrifice and ‘putting team ahead of self’ attitude which has actually turned Australia’s new-ball attack around. Starc just repaid the faith with the man-of-the-tournament trophy.
Steven Smith led the Test side in the absence of Clarke, out with a back injury, and thrashed India while scoring five centuries in the series. He quietly steps aside for Clarke when he is back, quietly takes his foot off the gas on Sunday so that Clarke might get as many runs as possible in his last knock and jumps on Watson to celebrate the World Cup victory, then runs into Clarke’s arms. All of it smells strongly of a new found team spirit and signs are ominous.