Not transition... just poor planning
Likewise, great teams do more than just dominate. They leave an indelible imprint in our minds, one of greatness, and an ideal to live up to.
Once a truly great team disbands, we have but hollowness; at its best, the team will only ever be imitated, and if surpassed, then certainly not in our lifetime. Like a species going extinct, we will never see their likeness again, and for cricket fans, the moment of realization can be acute.
We mope around in denial, surfing nostalgia in our sepia-toned highlights. And so, it’s only natural that when the next iteration of our team arrives, and they only succeed in underwhelming us, we struggle to come to terms.
One reason that we view previous generations through such hallowed filters is because as fans, our psychological make-up informs us and implores us to be revisionists. We are selective in our memories, often thanks to a media who reinforce the notion with lunchtime features that emphasize “The Greatest Moments in Australia’s Ashes History” rather than “Kim Hughes’ Australian Nightmare.”
The old days seem best because we are only too eager to consume content from our heroes - fans lap up what Steve Waugh, Allan Border and Richie Benaud have to say, subconsciously instigating the comparison between their respective eras and the modern one, reinforcing the disparity between past and present. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine DVDs of Australia’s whitewash to the West Indies ever flying off the shelves in Victoria.
We tend to block out the bad times of past - England’s 5-0 defeat in 2006-07 never happened, and India’s back-to-back away whitewashes were but a figment of your imagination - yet we remain acutely aware of current failings. As sport fans, we tend to universally suffer from an accepted cognitive dissonance that is so deep-rooted, it is either tacitly accepted, or we are simply too sentimental about to truly acknowledge.
“A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.” - Will Durant
After losing the second Ashes Test at Lord’s, Australia equalled their second-worst streak in history, of six consecutive defeats. This precipitated a hailstorm of theories attempting to identify the root cause of the decline.
It is often said that the current Australian side is one in ‘transition’, yet once we unpack this corporate-speak, it becomes apparent that it is merely an excuse. ‘Transition’ is that most ideal of terms for a cricket administrator: an intangible and thus seemingly incontrovertible term that is abused as a get-out-of-jail safe word when tough questions are on the horizon.
Transition is all but a synonym for poor planning. It is a symptom of short-termism, because all international sides are in a state of constant transition. It is disingenuous to bat puppy eyes and imply that fans must accept a nation’s indefinite ‘dark night of the soul’, every time it loses a Ponting, Hussey or Gilchrist.
The key lies in long-term planning at the expense of short-term results, something that rarely has an incentive and is therefore almost never given the due credit it deserves (England are the current leaders in succession planning). Other excuses for Australia’s current failings abound: Cricket Australia’s prideful flaunting of a Big Bash League television deal was widely criticized for its timing in the aftermath of defeat, and was held up as a perfect example of the rot that that has enveloped Australian cricket.
In a similar vein, the BBL itself has been scapegoated for averting the gaze of Australia’s cricketers away from Test aspirations, as if it were a buxom vamp, a Siren guiding hapless cricketers into career shipwreck.
Yet, none of this explains away the fact that India managed to achieve the No. 1 ranking in all three formats, despite the apparent handicap of spending two months a year in the IPL. Also, the proliferation of BBL has hardly helped Australia excel in the shortest format: they are currently ranked 7th.
So, perhaps it’s time to look past the finger-pointing and appreciate that either this current crop of cricketers simply isn’t good enough, or more likely, that whilst Australia’s bowling remains excellent, batting stocks are running at a freakishly low, cyclical trough - emphasized because the preceding generation consisted of Hall of Fame behemoths.
It’s been over forty years since the break-up of The Beatles, and fans still long for the next White Album.
In your heart of hearts, you knew there would be pale iterations to come of The Beatles, Waugh’s Australians, your first love. You know that there might even worthy approximations, but over time you’d appreciate that the chemistry of it all, that naive flutter, was to be far more unique than you could have ever appreciated at the time.
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