30 December 2008 – a day the Aussies would like to forget. A day that many felt would signal the end of a decade of cricketing supremacy and dawn upon a new era, one where the side would be the hunter and no longer the hunted and have to undergo a lengthy rebuilding phase.
10 March 2009 – the rebuilding phase is virtually done and Australia defeat South Africa 2-0 in a test series that they were widely tipped to lose. They regain their aura as a devastating force in world cricket and re-affirm their status as the number 1 nation in test cricket.
The win by the Aussies comes as a surprise to many but at the same time an expectation to others. Given the fact the Aussies have been dominating the world scene for many years and the series against South Africa in the Australian summer was a close battle (2-1 in the Proteas favour), it would be silly to think Australia had next to no chance in this series.
What has been most encouraging was the immediate success of the Aussies three debutants, Philip Hughes, Marcus North and Ben Hilfenhaus. The Australian selectors made a number of enterprising choices for this series and their decisions have been clearly vindicated in the results.
Hughes has been the major revelation and understandably so, given the fact he is barely 20 and has taken up the most talked about batting position in the world over the last 6 months – Matthew Hayden’s opening spot. Hughes, coming off a glorious first class summer for New South Wales, took no backward step in the South African’s outspoken plan to bombard him with the short stuff.
Also impressive was his ability to turn around his rather ordinary debut knock, a fourth ball duck and disregard it from his mind to then turn in performances of 75, 115 and 160 in his next three knocks. His performances have been startling and he has the realistic prospect of scoring 1000 in his first calendar year of test cricket.
Prior to commencement of the series, Marcus North’s position in the side was the hottest topic when describing the makeup of Australia’s XI for the first test at the Wanderers. The tour game against the South African Presidents XI which included a hundred, a fifty (retired) and a six-for in the second innings to secure victory locked in his position at number six in the order. A hundred in his debut test innings locked his position for the short to immediate term future, where even a fit Andrew Symonds or Shane Watson may find it difficult to usurp he Western Australian captain from his position.
Ben Hilfenhaus has found it difficult to break into the Australian test squad. With Peter Siddle and Doug Bollinger breaking into the side before the tall left armer from Tasmania, it appeared that ‘Hilfy’ mightn’t break into the test line-up in South Africa. An injury to Bollinger prior to the series saw to that not occurring and Hilfenhaus has shined in his opening two tests, with his left arm swingers proving more than a handful to the Proteas top order.
From a team perspective, these three have gelled quite impressively and even Andrew McDonald, who has had an ordinary series to date with the bat, has found his own role in the team with the ball. Whether Australia selects a spinner to replace him in the future is a question for another time and day.
Ricky Ponting has shown astute leadership and has backed his players like McDonald and Siddle to perform jobs for him at critical moments. Mitchell Johnson has stepped up another level to now be touted as Australia’s new all-rounder after his 96 not out and 8 wicket haul in the first test. With extravagant strokeplay supported by solid technique to couple his bowling exploits, this claim certainly has its merits.
All in all, Australia has regained its mojo and will head to England beaming with confidence.
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