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Ashes 2005 marks end of Australian era

For the first time in a decade, things have gone dreadfully quiet in the Australian dressing room.

india Updated: Aug 30, 2005 03:16 IST
Reuters
Reuters
PTI

Australia have been saying for years that they wanted a game from their oldest rivals.

Whether they quite had Edgbaston, Old Trafford and Trent Bridge in mind is another matter.

To have been outplayed once by England was unfortunate. For it to happen twice, and then a third time in going 2-1 down with one to play in the five-match Ashes series, will probably be judged as unpardonable by their supporters and selectors.

No one will know that better than Australia captain Ricky Ponting.

Heads will surely roll in the coming months, even if the marvellously resilient Australians somehow turn back the clock in the fifth and final test at The Oval next month to level matters and retain the Ashes.

Whatever happens, there is an unmistakable sense of an era approaching its end, a dynasty precariously short of worthy successors. The whispers began during the second test and have grown to a clamour since.

Ponting is a world-class batsman but knows he will go down in history as, at best, the man who failed to extend Australia's record run of eight Ashes triumphs in a row.

His cheeky early-tour grin long gone, he has consistently been out-thought by his England counterpart Michael Vaughan.

Ponting admitted blundering by putting England in first at Edgbaston, a decision which reportedly led to frank words with a less-than impressed Shane Warne. Australia denied a rift but duly lost the match, albeit by two runs.

At Trent Bridge, Ponting lost his cool after being run out by a specialist substitute fielder. Spraying abuse liberally, he headed straight into a hearing with the match referee.

Ponting exposed

The resulting fine mattered less than England's delight at having rattled the world champions' captain.

If Ponting's neck feels exposed, so will too that of Australia coach John Buchanan.

Buchanan was once regarded as an innovative, off-the-wall thinker. When you win, encouraging poetry reading and quoting from the ancient texts of Chinese warlords is regarded as blue-sky brilliance. When you lose, it tends to attract derision from friend and foe alike.

Perhaps Buchanan's luck has simply run out after six years at the helm. For those six years, he has had the luxury of running a team built on genius.

It is tempting to suggest Skippy the Kangaroo could have got away with captaining or coaching Australia while Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne were in their prime.

McGrath, on the cusp of becoming the most successful fast bowler of all time after passing 500 test wickets, is suddenly looking physically fallible.

The 35-year-old missed the second test with an ankle injury, the fourth with a swollen elbow and is doubtful for the fifth starting on September 8.

Warne, the greatest spinner of all time, has remained as iconic as ever despite his advancing age, with 28 wickets at 19.67 apiece for the series and a collection of batting scores to shame most of his top-order colleagues.

He almost saved Australia at Edgbaston, played a key role in the Old Trafford escape and his four second-innings wickets on Sunday took the Trent Bridge encounter to the wire, even after Australia were forced to follow on for the first time in 17 years.

Without McGrath's miserly bowling at the other end, however, he has been isolated. Jason Gillespie's dramatic decline, which led to his omission at Trent Bridge, has made things worse.

Ageing team

Ponting continues to bemoan his ageing team's inability to perform to expectations for sustained periods. He could justifiably also complain that key decisions went against Australia in Nottingham.

But fewer and fewer people are listening to the world champions, perhaps because they are beginning to sound like whingeing Poms.

They did not when the tour began.

McGrath confidently predicted a 5-0 Australian series success. Ponting said his bowlers knew how to deal with the likes of Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss, and that Andrew Flintoff was the only Englishman with a chance of getting in his line-up.

England said nothing in reply but their bowlers have quickly decoded the touring side's top order. Vaughan has set cleverly tailored fields and the Australians have repeatedly fallen into his traps.

Consider Adam Gilchrist, Australia's batting enforcer. Flintoff calls for the ball whenever he reaches the crease. Gilchrist is averaging 22.57 in the series, compared to his overall test average of 52.98.

Reverse swing has been England's key weapon, a skill first developed by Pakistan in the early 1990s. The Australians, having not met an attack to equal England's in recent times, admit they have not bothered to study the threat.

Matthew Hayden, in particular, has continued to plant his foot forward and drive as if by royal decree. His series top score is 36.

It is an attitude smacking of arrogance. Arrogance is the preserve of world champions but it cannot disguise the end of eras, when they come.

Talk, as Warne said before Trent Bridge, is cheap. Action counts. For the first time in a decade, things have gone dreadfully quiet in the Australian dressing room.

First Published: Aug 29, 2005 13:28 IST