Is this the news — the retirements of Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath —the rest of the cricketing world has been waiting for? If yes, then the other teams are as weak as England’s lower-order batting.
Australia, the world’s number one side since mid-1995, will be a diminished side without the exciting and exacting skills of Warne and McGrath. However, it won’t be anything like the same achievement to beat Australia minus the two super stars.
Australia have only lost four series out of 37 whenever Warne and McGrath have played together — against Pakistan in 1994-95, against Sri Lanka in 1999-00, in India in 2000-01 and in England last year. Whilst this is a fitting tribute to two champion bowlers, it is also an indictment on the rest of the cricket world.
If decent batsmen play against champion bowlers for a while, they normally learn something about their modus operandi. Both Warne and McGrath have had a better strike rate in the second half of their careers compared to the first half.
This is again a tribute to the bowlers’ mental strength, their adaptability and their desire to continue evolving as cricketers as well as a black mark on the opposing batsmen’s observation powers.
As a batsman, it is imperative you understand how a bowler is trying to dismiss you, especially one as clever as Warne. I’m not sure some batsmen are any closer to solving the Warne riddle now than when they first encountered his subtle variations.
During the time when the West Indies dominated world cricket, the rest of the cricketing world was guilty of stupidity — teams like India ran around like a chicken, trying to unearth four fast bowlers to take on the Caribbean champions. Not only was this “Mission Impossible”, it didn't make sense because fast bowling — unless it is exceptional — wasn’t the best way to unsettle the strong West Indies batting line-up.
During Australia’s domination, most teams have been naïve in appearing to believe that just by playing regularly against Warne and McGrath, they can solve their riddle. A dozen years on, of the longer serving players, only Indian batsmen and Lara have combated Warne with any certainty. There have been some slow learners among the rest of the batsmen, particularly those from England, South Africa, New Zealand and Pakistan.
The worst part has been the air of resignation about the teams when they come up against Australia, particularly when Warne and McGrath were playing at home. Take a look at the number of opposing players who have said prior to a series; “Australia is the best side of all time.”
This has become a ready-made excuse in case the inevitable happened. It doesn’t make sense to say your opposition is the best team of all time before you start a series.
Lately, the ICC has done more than its fair share to dilute the standard of world cricket. However, the players must share some of the blame for two strong teams being allowed to dominate the last thirty years of Test cricket without a sufficient struggle from their opponents.
During the West Indies reign, Imran Khan was the sole opposing captain who looked at the confrontation as a challenge to be accepted if his side was to be recognised as a good team. I’ve seen very little sign, especially in Australia, that opposing teams see the confrontation as a challenge to be accepted in order to further their own reputation.
If Australia becomes more beatable in the post Warne-McGrath era, it will be confirmation that the team has been diminished by their retirements. However, it will also be an indictment on those teams who didn’t rise to the challenge when the Australian side included these two champion bowlers.