Australia has a habit of starting badly in one-day
cricket tournaments – remember the five-wicket loss to Bangladesh in England last year? Friday night’s abominable
196-run loss
in South Africa was another excuse for hitting the panic button.

As this morning’s professional 24-run win shows, the
Aussies have a habit of turning around disasters mid-tour. We went on to win
the series after that Bangladesh debacle, for example. It has long been one
of the Australian cricket team’s strengths that one disaster rarely
precipitates the kind of terminal depressive slump that plagued England on so many Australian tours and completely
incapacitated Graeme Smith and his team here over summer.

There are several factors that have saved Australia from meltdown, not least the
professionalism bred into the entire touring party, but two stand out:
exceptional leadership by senior team members and continuity of team
performance over time.

Simply put, the first reason comes down to
the stabilising influence of exceptional senior players such as Ricky Ponting, Adam
Gilchrist and Glenn McGrath, and previously men like Steve Waugh and Shane
Warne. Australia has been lucky to have had in its team at least two
exceptional players who are also inspirational leaders, both in word and deed.

The second factor is that the team has
always been able to draw on past successes for confidence. This is the
interesting one, as Australia is currently fielding its least
experienced team in a decade. Only three players in last night’s face-saving
win have played more than 100 one-day games (Ponting, Gilchrist and Brett Lee),
and it is no surprise that two of them, Lee and Ponting, provided the
performances which decided last night’s match. In a rebuilding team, all the
pressure falls on the leaders. Ponting and Lee have stood up; keep an eye out
for Adam Gilchrist.

Meanwhile, the Test team for South Africa will be announced tomorrow. Names you
should see: Gillespie, Tait, Symonds. Names you shouldn’t see: Lewis, Hodge,
Watson. A name you might see: Jaques.