Waugh's Aussies continue to set the Test standard

By Tony Lawrence
Guyana Chronicle
April 26, 2001

LONDON, (Reuters) - The 2000-01 Test cricket season drew to a close with West Indies celebrating victory and the record-breaking Australia brooding over defeat.

Rarely can appearances have been more deceptive.

When the dust settles behind the outgoing Courtney Walsh, the stark facts will re-emerge.

Australia ended the season as they began it - as the best side in the world - while the once-mighty West Indians failed to reverse an apparently inexorable decline.

Steve Waugh's side may have gone down 2-1 in India, their world-record run of victories finally halted at 16, leg-spinner Shane Warne may have struggled and worries may have surfaced over an ageing squad (media reports suggest it will be their oldest to travel to England since 1909, immediate post-war teams excepted).

But, due to be strengthened by the return of express bowler Brett Lee, they remain the team to beat.

They also deserve unqualified praise for their style of play.

Australia always played to win. They won six of their eight Tests of the season. Significantly, none ended in a draw.

Their defeat in Calcutta, in particular, will go down in history as one of the all-time great games.

No other major Test side was able to match their positive approach, certainly not Carl Hooper's West Indies.

Their consolation win in the fifth Test against South Africa last week is likely to prove Pyrrhic, especially since the 38-year-old Walsh's retirement with 519 wickets in his kit bag, will rob the team of their heart.

10 DEFEATS, THREE DRAWS Kingston was their first Test victory of 2000-01 and their first in 14 games.

Brian Lara and Hooper remain, but the younger players have yet to make an impact.

Things could not be more different in India.

The manner of their success against Australia - coming back from 1-0 down and becoming only the third side in Test cricket to win after being forced to follow on - was reason enough for jubilation.

But India also unearthed two jewels.

Vangipurappu Laxman, five years into a stop-start Test career, suddenly found his feet with an Indian record innings of 281 to turn the series around. He added a century in the one-day series.

Twenty-year-old off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, however, proved the find of the season.

Once blighted by a suspect action and a suspect attitude, he took 32 wickets - including a hat-trick - in the three Tests at just over 17 runs apiece.

India, robbed of leading bowler Anil Kumble through a long-term shoulder injury, won four of six Tests, including one against Test debutants Bangladesh.

Those performances helped soothe the hurt caused by the banning for life of former captain Mohammad Azharuddin for match-fixing in December.

South Africa, meanwhile, flourished in the post-Hansie Cronje era, winning three series and drawing one. Cronje was barred from the game in October after admitting taking money from bookmakers

POLLOCK THE HIGHLIGHT Shaun Pollock was the highlight, making his maiden century against Sri Lanka in January and then becoming only the eighth player in Test history to complete the 2,000-run, 200-wicket double.

All-rounder Lance Klusener, sadly, was the low light, averaging under 10 in the five West Indies Tests and taking eight wickets.

England claimed the title of the most improved unit, winning Test series in Pakistan - for the first time in 38 years - and in Sri Lanka.

It was not always pretty, the team's limitations forcing Nasser Hussain to opt for safety-first tactics rather than risking bold pushes for victory.

But four successive Test series wins, their best run for 22 years, suggest the approach has merit after years of disappointment.

The development of Craig White into a top all-rounder provided the cornerstone of the team's advances.

Sri Lanka, without a Test series win, failed again to repeat their one-day exploits over five days, although their batting remains formidable while off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan and pace bowler Chaminda Vaas provide genuine bowling class.

RIFTS AND TURMOIL Pakistan, meanwhile, like the West Indies, managed just one win during a season of rifts and turmoil. They ended it with a new, inexperienced captain in Waqar Younis and without a coach.

They head for England in apparent disarray. So bank on them to win the series handsomely there, as they did in 1987, 1992 and 1996.

Bank on no one, however, ever to match Don Bradman.

Bradman, who averaged 99.94 in Tests, died in February. Aged 92, he again missed out on the magic three figures.