Australianism, as John Arlott had written in 1949, is the “single-minded determination to win — to win within the laws, but if necessary, to the last limit within them. It means that where the ‘impossible’ is within the realm of what the human body can do, there are Australians who believe that they can do it — and who have succeeded often enough to make us wonder if anything is impossible to them.”
Arlott wrote this essay a year after Don Bradman’s team — “The Invincibles” — didn’t lose a match on their triumphant tour of England. But it could have easily been applicable for Allan Border’s band in 1987, or Steve Waugh’s men in the early 2000s, or Ricky Ponting’s team after that. And perhaps, even now.
It’s a fair assessment. Man to man comparisons are pointless. Because what Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist achieved on a regular basis—not just bulldozing attacks but striking fear in the heart of bowlers — can’t be replicated, possibly ever. Pat Cummins is neither as alert or sharp as Ponting nor does he have the aura of Waugh. There will never be another Michael Bevan, not even someone as ridiculously multi-talented as Shane Watson or Andrew Symonds. Let’s not even broach the topic of bowlers, which even the current generation won’t hesitate to admit aren’t even close to Glenn McGrath or Shane Warne even on their average days.
The Aussie way
But it hasn’t mattered. Australia have not stopped being Australia in the World Cup because even this collection of cogs have the winning mindset hardwired into them. There have been some fine teams in the past, graced by great cricketers authoring even greater runs. West Indies scripted World Cup dominance that they can only dream of recreating now. England’s were the briefest, but the most entertaining.
Under Arjuna Ranatunga and Mahela Jayawardene, Sri Lanka forged some epochal wins. Twenty five years apart, Imran Khan and Sarfaraz Ahmed scripted contrasting fables to inspire Pakistan (1992 World Cup, 2017 Champions Trophy). India, always boasting of the most gifted cricketers across generations, too have a superb record.
Then there’s Australia, reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup seven out of eight times from 1996, this once being undeniably the most unpredictably engrossing ride. The build-up has been ominous with Australia visibly hurting after the second ODI in Indore where they were thrashed by 99 runs. And when the World Cup began, massive losses to India and South Africa seemed to almost knock the wind out of their sails.
Cut to Tuesday, and Australia have won six matches in a row. There has been no Steve Smith reawakening, nor a defying hundred from Marnus Labuschagne, Cameron Green has been a bit of a letdown and even the once venerable Mitchell Starc is still to join the party.
Pulling it off
There is always someone pulling a rabbit out of the hat though, or just taking the reins and steering the team to safety. After the first two losses, Adam Zampa was averaging 6.83 per over with only one wicket to show for. Now, he has 20 and an average of 5.56. David Warner has hardly missed out, but when he does, Glenn Maxwell more than compensates for a decade of missed opportunities in the subcontinent. Hindsight tells you that had it not been for dropped catches, Maxwell couldn’t have pulled everyone else along with a breathtaking performance. Look at it from a different point of view and it’s also the slice of luck only the bravest deserves.
If turning points were to be converted into stories someday, what Maxwell did will certainly qualify as an epic. Ponting feels it might just prove to be the catalyst Australia need to go all the way. “All the great teams that I’ve played with and all the great teams that I’ve been around have always had that belief that they can win from anywhere, and literally anywhere, even World Cup campaigns that I played in,” Ponting was quoted as saying on cricketworldcup.com.
“We had games where we probably shouldn’t have won, but someone was there with that belief to put their hand up and win the game. And that’s what I talk about with Australia in World Cups. They’ve got this knack of being able to just win the big moments and today was a huge moment as they qualify for the World Cup semi-finals now and hopefully onwards and upwards for them.”
While this resilience was to a degree anticipated, it couldn’t have been predicted going by current form. Australia aren’t like the Australia of yore, those ruthless world beaters, those outrageously talented forces of nature. They have always commanded respect but the fear has gone missing these days. It’s a relatively young team, coming out of the shadows of a culture slammed as toxic, but with success almost certainly predicated on the retention of seven players from the 2015 World Cup squad.
Since the ball tampering scandal in 2018 there has been a sustained effort to recalibrate the way Australia play their cricket. These last few weeks, however, have projected this Australia to be not so different from its past versions, after all.
There have been many gifted sides. But no culture knows better than Australia how to be more than the sum of their parts.