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Australia show no signs of a slow down

Published: Sunday, December 19, 2004, 16:02 [IST]
 
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London:Australian cricket may have said goodbye to the Waugh brothers in 2004 but their dominance of Test cricket showed no sign of weakening in a year where off-field events hogged plenty of headlines.

With Michael Clarke completing the rare double of a hundred on both his away and home Test debuts, the future of Australia's batting looked secure especially with openers Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer still piling on the runs.

Meanwhile a rejuvenated Michael Kasprowicz forced his way back into the Australian pace attack.

Steve Waugh, who radiated resilience at the crease and elevated the Baggy Green cap to iconic status, bowed out with 80 against India on his Sydney home ground, finishing with 10,927 runs at an average of 51.06 and 32 hundreds.

Twin brother Mark had already departed the international stage but few made batting look as stylish.

And even without the duo, Australia still won a Test series in India for the first time in 35 years.

Aussie leg-spinner Shane Warne returned from a year-long drugs ban and became Test cricket's leading wicket-taker, overtaking Sri Lanka off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, with his 533rd victim.

After two heavy defeats in Australia in November, New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming said: "This Australian team is by far the most superior cricket team around."

Australia skipper Ricky Ponting said of his team: "We must have a lot of pride in our performance every time we take the field, that's very important to us, as individuals and as a team."

Elsewhere, England won 10 out of their 11 Tests with one draw to rise to second in the rankings before December's series against South Africa got underway.

Fast bowler Stephen Harmison, who took seven for 12 as West Indies were dismissed for 47 in Jamaica, matured and all-rounder Andrew Flintoff produced several commanding displays.

Meanwhile Andrew Strauss made a hundred on his debut against New Zealand at Lord's. He nearly had two in the match but was run out by former England captain Nasser Hussain. Such was Strauss's impact, Hussain announced his retirement from cricket shortly afterwards

Pakistan pace bowler Waqar Younis, who turned the toe-crunching yorker into an art form while playing 87 Tests in which he took 373 wickets at a superb average of 23.56, also retired.

Meanwhile the International Cricket Council (ICC) proposed extending the margin of arm-straightening by bowlers in delivery to 15 degrees, a move branded a "chucker's charter" by England great Geoffrey Boycott.

This figure was just above the unorthodox Muralitharan's straightening level recorded at 14 degrees.

Briefly banned from bowling his 'doosra' delivery, Murali refused to tour Australia where he'd previously been no-balled for throwing and catcalled by crowds.

Zimbabwe were suspended from Test cricket but allowed to carry on in One-day Internationals after two heavy defeats by Sri Lanka.

Heath Streak was dropped as captain, said there was racial bias in selection. His comments led to him becoming one of 15 white senior players axed, the team suffering further heavy defeats throughout the year.

Political interference had prevented India touring Pakistan for 15 years. But in March they crossed the border.

They won both Test and One-day series but the fact that these matches between the world's most passionate cricket nations had taken place at all was seen as victory for all.

"We did lose to a better team but off the field both the nations and people have won," said Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Shaharyar Khan after fans mixed freely despite pre-series security fears.

But batting great Javed Miandad was sacked as coach and replaced by former South Africa coach and ex-England batsman Bob Woolmer.

South Africa, who slid from second to sixth in the rankings saw coach Eric Simons resign and Ray Jennings take charge admist fresh arguments over positive discrimination in the post-apartheid era.

West Indies also ended the year with a new coach, former Australia academy chief Bennett King, after Test defeats home and away to England.

But in April, captain Brian Lara regained the world record for the highest individual Test score when he made 400 not out against England.

And in the final of September's ICC Champions Trophy One-day tournament - an event Australia have still to win - they snatched a dramatic victory to beat hosts England in near-darkness at The Oval.

Elsewhere Bangladesh's defeat this month by India - where India's Sachin Tendulkar equalled compatriot Sunil Gavaskar's world record of 32 Test hundreds - was their 30th in 33 matches since gaining Test status four years ago.

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