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August 26, 2009

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Aussies facing long & painful revamp phase

AUSTRALIA'S 14-year domination of international cricket is officially over after it failed in its attempt at a smooth succession plan.

A quarter of a century after Australian cricket was plunged into years of darkness with the simultaneous retirements of Dennis Lillee, Greg Chappell and Rod Marsh, officials made the same mistake again.

Australia's latest demise had been coming for at least two years, but was only confirmed last weekend when it surrendered the Ashes to England.

The official proof of its freefall came with the release of the International Cricket Council's test rankings. Having held the No. 1 spot since the rankings system was introduced in 2003, Australia has fallen to fourth.

For an era that began with a bang, it ended in a whimper.

Australia has won just two of its last five test series, including its first defeat on home soil in 17 years, against South Africa last December.

The Australians' record in the shorter forms of the game is just as embarrassing. They have won just one of their past four one-day series and failed to make it past the first round of this year's Twenty20 World Cup.

It is a far cry from where they were perched just a little over two years ago. They had just hammered England 5-0 to regain the Ashes and won the World Cup for the third time in a row.

Australia had announced its return to the top of world cricket in dramatic fashion in 1995 when Mark Taylor's team defeated the mighty West Indies, who had themselves dominated the game in the 1980s and 1990s.

Under Taylor, Steve Waugh and then Ricky Ponting, the Australians re-wrote the record books, crushing their opponents with a team overflowing with talent and ruthless ambition.

But signs that things were about to get a lot harder emerged a few years ago when the core of players which had contributed to the team's golden era began departing at a rapid rate.

When Taylor retired in 1999, the team remained fairly constant until his successor Waugh quit in 2004.

However, more than three-quarters of the team that Ponting inherited from Waugh, either quit or was sacked in the next three years.

Fast bowler Jason Gillespie was never picked again after scoring an unbeaten double-century and being named player of the series against Bangladesh in April 2006.

Leg-spinner Shane Warne, paceman Glenn McGrath, opener Justin Langer and middle-order batsman Damien Martyn all retired during or after the triumphant 2006-07 Ashes series. Wicketkeeper-batsman Adam Gilchrist quit a year later then wrist-spinner Stuart MacGill followed him into retirement a few months after.

Pulled up stumps

Opener Matthew Hayden pulled up stumps after last summer's loss to South Africa and allrounder Andrew Symonds was sacked this year after a series of disciplinary issues.

It took Australia five years to recover after Lillee, Chappell and Marsh all quit in 1984 and officials vowed never to let it happen again.

But they failed to develop a proper succession plan and with more retirements likely, the wait for another great team could take years.

Ponting, the last of Australia's players from its golden era, is 34, while pacemen Brett Lee and Stuart Clark are both in their 30s.

Opener Simon Katich, middle-order batsman Mike Hussey and wicketkeeper Brad Haddin are also in their 30s and Australia is no closer to finding a permanent replacement for Warne despite trying several spinners.

The Australian selectors, who copped the brunt of the criticism for the Ashes defeat, have shown little patience with the rare few players under 30 who have been given a chance, but may have to take a riskier approach if Australia is to recover soon.


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