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The Sun never sets...

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It is clear now that gravity has finally started exerting some effect on the Australian Test side, and a downward, back-to-earth shift has been put in motion. But Aussie-grudgers (also known as the non-Australian part of the cricket-following population) disturbed with the sudden void left with nothing to dislike need not worry. The Australian ODI side, contrary to popular perception, is still as strong as it ever was.

The Australian team well and truly hit its stride in full force from 1999 onwards following the World Cup win. In terms of success percentages, the current Australian side (2007 ODI WC onwards) is easily as good as, if not better than, the Australian side that played from 1999-2003. The Waugh-Ponting led squad then recorded a success rate of 53% in terms of series' won as against the 64% recorded by the current Australian team.

The Aussie ODI machine was at its peak from 2003 to 2007 when it recorded an astonishing ratio of winning 75% of its series'. The present Aussie side matches up to even this in one key area - victories in tournaments with 3 or more teams (75% to the former's 76).

The decline of the Australian Test side, however, is not gauged so much by success percentages as much as it is by the widening cracks in the team's performances. In the last 12 months the Test team has suffered series defeats at the hands of three different opponents, and not always due to the extraordinary quality of the opposition. The ODI team, however, has stumbled far fewer times. Since 2007, they have lost the Commonwealth Bank Series despite dominating the tournament for large periods and have been mauled by South Africa, but have held complete sway otherwise.

The official ICC ODI rankings currently rank Australia third, behind India and South Africa. In the period of comparison (2007 ODI WC onwards), India's success rate in winning series/tournaments is significantly lower than Australia's (57% to 64%). South Africa also records a lower percentage (62%), although only marginally (not including series' against Bangladesh and associate nations).

What emerges from this little labyrinth of stats and observations is that the present Australian ODI team is clearly not inferior to its recent illustrious predecessors whose shadows cloud it. The difference in the efficiency of the likes of Bracken, Haddin and Watson and that of McGrath, Gilchrist and Hayden is much smaller than the difference in their auras.

The perception that Australia are not the force they were may perhaps be induced by the fact that unlike in the past, there isn't a complete stratospheric layer between them and those trying to catch up. South Africa look to have raised themselves to new levels of programmed bloody-mindedness, and India seem to be managing their madness with more potency than ever before.

The difference between now and then is that these teams have raised their games, rather than Australia having dropped theirs. Which is precisely what everyone was wishing for around 2003-2005, an ancient age when people still discussed ODI cricket.

(Click here to know more about Sreeram, and here to know more about Jatin)



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