AUSTRALIA may no longer be the force they were when Jason Gillespie graced their ranks but Yorkshire’s new first-team coach believes reports of their demise have been greatly exaggerated.
The Baggy Greens have slipped to fourth in the world Test rankings – the equivalent of one of Premier League football’s ‘Big Four’ sliding into the obscurity of upper mid-table.
But rather than criticise Australia for their fall from grace, Gillespie believes credit must go to their rivals.
“Everyone talks about Australia’s decline, but I think that takes away a bit from other countries that have worked incredibly hard, come through and been very successful,” said Gillespie, who took 259 Test wickets at 26.13.
“When you think of England, India and South Africa, the teams above Australia, they have all worked incredibly hard and done very well, and I don’t think you can just say, ‘Oh, Australia’s declined.’
“Australia haven’t performed as well as they could have done and have probably dipped a little, for sure.
“But other teams have shot through and played some wonderful cricket, and I think those teams have got to be acknowledged.”
Gillespie has been particularly impressed with England’s progress under Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower.
A year that began with Ashes success has ended with England on top of the world Test rankings, keen to emulate the success of Gillespie’s Australian side.
Next year comes a stiff test of their credentials when they face away series against Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India, in addition to home engagements with West Indies and South Africa.
“Next year is going to be a challenge for England, but it’s one I’m sure they’re up to,” added Gillespie.
“The guys are fit, strong and very well-led, and everyone seems to be on the same page.
“For me, England have raised the bar of late and I think they’re a great side.
“They are No 1 and performing beautifully, and I think Strauss and Flower need to take a lot of credit for the on-field performance, along with the management of players around the country.”
Gillespie is also excited by Australia’s progress – in particular that of their emerging crop of talented fast bowlers.
James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins have all impressed in recent times and could serve Australia well for many years to come.
“Pattinson, Starc and Cummins are incredibly exciting bowlers,” said Gillespie.
“They bowl 90mph-plus and that’s exciting not just from an Australian fan point of view, but exciting for cricket in general.
“There’s nothing better than watching a Test match or a one-dayer and seeing fast bowlers steam in and put the ball around ear holes.
“People pay money to see that, and that’s an important factor in getting crowds and sponsors to support Test cricket.
“In addition, Australia have got Ben Hilfenhaus waiting in the wings, while Peter Siddle is a very good bowler.
“He’s probably slipped under the radar a little bit with all these young guys coming in, but he’s still getting four, five wickets a Test match and doing a very good job. Ben Cutting from Queensland is another young bowler who has done well.
“There are a number of fast bowlers coming through, which bodes well for the future of Australian cricket.”
Inevitably, the shadow of Gillespie’s all-conquering team looms large over contemporary Australian combinations, who have it all to do to live up to that standard.
But Gillespie believes they cannot allow that to effect them.
“I’d like to think the guys we’ve got now are looking to create their own history,” he said.
“I sincerely hope that is their mindset because you don’t want to ride on the coat tails of former players.
“That’s in the past, and a lot of those players have been out of the game for a few years now. And while it’s great to reminisce, you want to move forward and create your own future.”
Gillespie is honoured to have been part of such a successful side but is not one to dwell on former glories.
“It’s humbling to be told you were a member of one of the best teams that’s ever played the game, and every now and then you reflect on it and take stock a little bit,” he admitted.
“I love the fact I was fortunate enough to play for my country, but I never really embrace doing sportsmen’s nights and things like that.
“I’ll do it every now and again – get up and talk about the past, bring up a few stories and embellish them as much as I can to make myself sound a lot better than I actually was, but I prefer to talk about contemporary cricket.
“The past is the past and although you appreciate it happened, you should always try to look forward.”