AUSTRALIA have once again come down to the earth with a rather big thump. The team had been on a winning streak and a certain amount of over-confidence was beginning to creep in. It took a pint-sized bloke named Romesh Kaluwitharana to wake them up to the fact that they are well within beatable range.
The last time this happened was in the Caribbean and that after they had slaughtered the West Indies in the first Test, bowling them out for 51. A wounded tiger is always the most dangerous and the Australians found out what Caribbean cricketing pride was all about after that, when another pint-sized bloke, going by the name of Brian Charles Lara, used his blade to devastating effect.
The thrashing that Sri Lankan meted out to the Aussies will doubtless bolster the home team's confidence for the three-Test series that folows. Playing at home is always an advantage, having the old man Ranatunge back in the team (as seems likely now) will be an added plus point in Lanka's favour (his ability to needle the Aussies will be worth its weight in gold) and the eight-wicket win will now give the Lankans the little edge they were looking for.
Australia always tend to come down to earth with a big bang after a run of triumphs, never a small one. The good point is that they often tend to recover pretty soon as they did against England last year after being beaten in Melbourne when chasing a small total. But they could take a while to get their act together as happened in the West Indies -- and there I suspect that it was more a matter of the home team running out of steam rather the Aussies gaining the upper hand.
Over-confidence, we have seen in the past, plays even the best teams false. Lloyd's West Indies team of 1983 is a prime example; the World Cup final of that year was lost by a team brimming over with over-confidence. I still remember Marshall smirking at the crease when he and Dujon were holding fort, with the West Indies 126 for seven and needing 58 for victory with something like 12 overs left. He apparently believed that it was well within their range.
Australia need to pick up quickly if they are to get into the right frame of mind for the long summer that follows. India and Pakistan are expected to play three Tests apiece Down Under and they could be tricky customers, especially Pakistan. After that comes a trip across the Tasman to take on a Kiwi outfit which must be in fine fettle after the Test series win in England.
There is an added factor that could affect Australia in the games ahead -- the fact that Geoff Marsh will be leaving them soon. I think Marsh is one of the nicest blokes to have graced the cricket field in the last 20 years, a classical right-hand batsman and a man who lets his bat do most of the talking, something that the Australian team has not obviously learnt. But the team has got used to his methods and will take some time to settle down under any new man. No matter the outcome of the series in Lanka, the chances of it being that much more even are now enhanced.