Stranger things have happened in Test cricket but something really weird – cricket’s equivalent of frogs falling from the sky – would have to occur in Perth over the next three days for Ricky Ponting’s Australians to extend their winning run beyond 16 matches, and claim the record.
Ahead by 170 runs, with nine wickets in hand in this third Test, India can be expected to build a lead of at least 400 today, thereby seriously imperilling Australia’s charge towards the magical number of 17 straight victories.
And there will be many cricket fans from around the globe who will feel that, if the Australians are stopped in their tracks one shy of the record, a certain karma has come into play, a certain poetic justice has been meted out.
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For while few can seriously claim the Australians do not deserve to be ranked among the better sides to have played the game, significantly more people are unhappy about the way they have achieved their success. Their greatness has started and stopped with their on-field exploits. All the garnish and trimmings that make a truly great side, and one loved by its public, have been jettisoned in pursuit of the singular goal of winning.
And it is not just Ponting’s team at fault, but Steve Waugh’s before it.
The Sydney Test, which ended in rancour, bitterness and racism allegations, would – in this correspondent’s eyes – be an appropriate spot for the Australian run to end. That would be the watershed moment. They could then draw a line under that unhappy experience and their boorish reputation, wipe the slate clean – both with their behaviour and their consecutive wins’ record – and start afresh.
The Australians’ demeanour over the first two days in Perth suggest they have finally got it: that the Australian public is not interested in victory at any cost. That winning with grace, and respecting its opponents along the way, is far more important than simply winning. As John Bertrand, Ron Barassi, Neil Harvey and countless other sporting VIPs have told the team in the past week: do better at representing your country.
There is, of course, three days left in this Test and much time for the home side to produce a “frogs from the sky” moment. Brett Lee, Stuart Clark, Mitchell Johnson and Shaun Tait could conceivably run through the Indians for under 200, then Ponting and co knock off the 320-odd runs for victory, to keep the streak alive.
It’s been more than four years since Australia lost at home, and 11 since they lowered their colours at the WACA. They won’t go down without a fight.
But if this Test ends in a draw, or defeat, for the Australians, then that would be no bad thing. It would mean their next tilt at the title could be pursued, untainted and uncompromised, in the proper Spirit of Cricket – proudly nominated by Cricket Australia as a fundamental tenet of its strategic plan.
Over the course of the next year, Australia plays Pakistan (hopefully), the West Indies, Bangladesh, and then return to India for four Tests at the end of the year. If it can win those 13 Tests – no small feat, admittedly – then it can spend next summer (South Africa visit these shores in December) talking about and pursuing the next streak.
After all, as Steve Waugh predicted earlier this summer, Ponting’s team is so accomplished, it could win 30 Tests in a row. Let that countdown begin at the Adelaide Test next week.