With attentions in England over the past few months having been focussed squarely on South Africa, one could be forgiven for not keeping up with encounters taking place elsewhere in the cricketing world. As more recent headlines have been devoted to Sachin Tendulkar’s awe-inspiring double century against South Africa, the controversial R&R afforded to England captain Andrew Strauss and security concerns over this year’s IPL, comparatively little room has been left for stories of Australia’s successes down under. Not that this has necessarily been a bad thing. The English press has relished this rare opportunity to make full use of some fairly questionable naval puns, with regards to our newly christened captain, Alastair Cook. The Independent was quick to write that the gallant “Captain Cook” had “taken the helm” from a rather jaded Strauss, whilst The Times subtly alluded to Alastair Cook’s personal “voyage of discovery”. But despite my initial enthusiasm, a recent BBC article entitled ‘Boycott threat hanging over IPL’ did not make any reference to an irate Geoffrey Boycott sending intimidating messages to the Indian Premier League. Disappointing.
Nevertheless, for all the media distractions elsewhere it would be difficult not to be impressed by an Australian side who have eased their way back into form following a disappointing 2009 Ashes Tour in England. An emphatic Twenty20 victory against the West Indies last Tuesday saw the Australians complete a memorable unbeaten home series of internationals. The spring very much looked to be back in the Aussie’s step as new boy David Warner clubbed Windies paceman Kemar Roach comfortably over the boundary rope, before grinning cheekily to fellow opener Shane Watson. The duo ensured their side rounded off a remarkable four months of cricket, as the home side cruised to an assured eight wicket victory in less than twelve overs, watched over by the smiling visage of Colonel Sanders from the multitude of KFC-sponsored billboards encircling the ground.
Admittedly an out-of-form West Indian side, largely propped up by veterans Gayle, Sarwan and Chanderpaul, never looked likely to trouble Ricky Ponting and his team, but perhaps more praiseworthy was the Antipodeans’ categorical defeat of Mohammad Yousuf’s Pakistan. Ponting became the most successful captain in Test history as Australia’s victory in the second Test at Melbourne gave him a record 42nd win as skipper. His side went on to whitewash Pakistan in the Test series; a feat they repeated in the One Day Series before finishing off a miserable summer for the tourists with a thrilling two-run victory in the Twenty20 fixture.
Just as impressive as the usual mix of aggressive yet clinical cricket from the likes of Ponting, Clarke, Hussey, Johnson and Siddle, to name just a few, has been the rapid development of youth players, such as the aforementioned Warner, along with all-rounder Daniel Christian and spinner Steve Smith. This year has also seen the return of one of Australia’s most underrated pace bowlers, Ryan Harris, who made short work of the Pakistan batting line up at the Adelaide Oval, finishing with figures of 5-43, earning him the justly deserved man of the match honours. Evidently not satisfied with just one notable performance, Harris went on in the next game to make his previous figures look positively ordinary as he took 5-19 in his second consecutive five wicket haul, a feat topped only by the legendary Waqar Younis, who has three consecutive five-fors to his admittedly much more esteemed name. Such performances certainly bode well for an Australian side who have recently lost the firepower of long-serving fast bowler Brett Lee in the Test format.
Undeniably these past few months have seen one of the greatest cricketing nations return to their scintillating best. Indeed, one would have to venture as far back as October 31st to find evidence of Australia’s most recent defeat in international cricket, when they went down by six wickets to India in the third of a four-match ODI series (which was eventually drawn 2-2). And with a resounding six wicket victory against New Zealand in the twenty over format last Friday, Australia look set to continue their recent run of form well into 2010, with one eye firmly fixed on the highly anticipated ICC World Twenty20 Championships, due to get under way at the end of April. Whether or not our beloved opening batsman/18th century explorer Captain Cook can lead England to any such feats of heroism in the upcoming tour of Bangladesh remains to be seen, especially with the absence of his opening partner Strauss and premier seam bowler James Anderson. However, should you feel the need to tear yourselves away from commentary agonising over the long-awaited return to form of Kevin Pietersen, then the encounter between Australia and New Zealand certainly promises to be a first-rate contest, as the world’s number one ODI side attempt to regain their place as the number one Test side. This year could potentially wave in yet another golden era of Australian cricket, which may not bode well for Captain Cook and his intrepid band of explorers come December and the start of the Ashes series. But, we shall see.