I have a friend, an Australian cricket fan, who’s become so depressed about the state of the game here that he won’t read anything I write about it. I’m ever more optimistic, but I understand. We’ve been spoilt for a long time and the recent ruin and disgrace is hard to stomach. Man, I’m telling you, it has to turn though, and maybe it’s starting, and maybe enough that my friend feels positive enough to read this.
Australia has been in the doldrums for the last year, most of it self-inflicted. Used to winning more often than not in recent times the losing has been more common, and there’s been some ugly stuff in there. Every now and then there’s a patch of promising form and little green shoots of improvement and you think, hang on a sec, but generally there’s not been too much to get excited about. The rest of the cricket world has been pretty much in accord. The demise of Australia is the cause for much schadenfreude across the cricket playing community. They’ve been quick and very keen to write us off as a serious contender for the World Cup in a couple of months’ time but, sort of, fair enough. I don’t mind being hated. I sort of like it in a way. But then there’s been justified writing us off – until now.
Australia’s just finished playing India over there. Back in Oz in summer they beat us 2-1 in the one day tournament. Playing them on their home patch they went into the series slightly strengthened and, on paper, ours slightly weakened. They were strong favourites across the board, but in the T20 series we unexpectedly beat them 2-0. Normal service returned in the one day series that followed after we lost the first two games. I was watching the games here. I hoped for a win, but mostly I wanted brave performances. I’d cop that. But then we lifted from what had been a narrow loss to post a succession of right from the top drawer – most notably chasing down 359 with a couple of overs to spare to level the series 2-2. The decider was overnight yesterday and, you guessed it, Australia won it. From being 0-2 down we came back to take the series 3-2 against one of the best teams in the world playing at home.
No point getting hyperbolic, but what we saw in this series was a return to the clinical performance we were renowned for. The team has bonded through the dark times and begun to click as a unit. They’re playing with great spirit. When it’s got tough they’ve doubled down throughout, in the same way as the Australian teams of the past – the teams that have won five World Cups in 30 years.
A few months ago I boasted to an Indian at work – getting cocky with his team’s success – that Australia would knock-out India in the semi-final of the world cup. I’m always bullish about Australian prospects – they’ve always found a way – but some of this was bravado. You believe it in a way though, you don’t rule it out no matter how hard others disbelieve, and their opposition only serves to stiffen your resolve. I’m not playing, but my proxies will be. Making the statement I did was a way of defending territory, but it’s also the sort of arrogance that supporters of other teams have grown to hate about Australia. Come the world cup and if I’m wrong I’ll shrug my shoulders and cop it sweet, fair play. You’ve got to believe it first though and it’s that historical belief that leads you to make such statements in the first place, and the sort of belief that becomes self-fulfilling. You’ve got to be bold enough to believe though, to challenge it by putting it out there, and through the years I reckon that’s given us a big edge.
I don’t want to get to far ahead of myself. We go to the UAE to play Pakistan now and could be whitewashed there. Regardless, we’re now a serious contender for the world cup, and doubly so when you consider that Warner, Smith and Starc need to be squeezed into a team already good enough to beat the best in the world. That’s the message to the world: be afraid.
I’ll cack myself if we get up to win after being pronounced so profoundly and gleefully dead by the pundits. Hope my mate does too. And if we don’t you know where to find me.