Source: Simon Barnes, Times Online. (edited)
When a real empire declines, historians look for sweeping, unstoppable trends that changed things forever.
But when a sporting empire falls the reasons are much simpler.
Australian cricket has not slumped because the system failed. Australia failed because two of the finest cricketers that ever drew breath have retired.
The problem is not about systems, it is about people. The problem is that extreme talent is very, very rare in any walk of life.
Australia has for years had a considerable number of very fine players. But in Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne they had the difference between very good and absolutely remarkable.
That’s why the decline began with their retirement. For that matter, the turning point of the Ashes series of 2005 came when McGrath turned his ankle on a stray cricket ball while sodding about playing rugby before the second Test: for want of a man to do the tidying up, the series was lost.
That’s what happens. Time after time, in sport after sport, when empires decline and fall, it generally comes down not to larger trends, but to the loss of exceptional individuals.
It also suggests that in team sports, truly exceptional players make all the other players perform better.
This is not due only to their moral example and inspirational powers but because genuinely remarkable players create the time and space in which others can also excel.
The ultimate achievement in team sport is to create a dynasty. That's why every great team must look not only for excellence but for succession.