By Nick Bryant
BBC News, Sydney
Australia learned about the retirement of Adam Gilchrist, its cricketing national treasure, on its national day - just as the embers were starting to die out on celebratory barbeques and people were heading home from the beach.
Wicket-keeper Gilchrist dismissed a Test world record 414 batsmen
For the nation's cricket fans, it meant that Australia Day ended on a rather unhappy and uncertain note.
John Buchanan, the team's former coach, predicted that the loss of Gilchrist would create an even bigger hole than the void left by last season's retirees, Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Justin Langer.
The new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, called Gilchrist and asked him to reconsider.
There is no player in the world who can change the complexion of a Test match or one-day international with such swashbuckling speed and power. As Peter Roebuck noted in the Sydney Morning Herald, having Gilchrist in your side is like playing with 12 players.
So while it seems a little churlish to start discussing the end of Australia's cricketing dominance just as the team has completed a world record-equalling winning sequence of 16 straight Test victories, the topic is being openly discussed here down under.
In Brad Haddin, Australia has a strong wicketkeeper-in-waiting, who would walk into most national teams.
Haddin has played one-day internationals but no Test matches
A world class gloveman, he captained the Australia under-19 side, and has averaged more than 50 for the past couple of seasons in the Pura Cup (the new name for the Sheffield Shield) for New South Wales.
But he will be 31 this October, and some of his best playing years may well be behind him.
Luke Ronchi, a 26 year old who plays for Western Australia, Gilchrist's adopted state, is another exciting prospect. With a 56-ball century to his name, he holds the record for the fastest ton in Australian one-day domestic cricket.
Wicket-keeping is a less of a problem than other areas of potential vulnerability.
The series against India has already highlighted the absence of Shane Warne.
In Test cricket, Stuart MacGill of New South Wales actually has a better strike rate than the man who kept him out of the Australian team for so many years. But the New South Welshman will be 37 by the time he returns from injury.
Brad Hogg is a week shy of the same age, and has been unable to make much of an impact on the final day of Test matches. On the fifth day at Sydney, he did not get a single scalp, while part-time spinners Andrew Symonds and Michael Clarke picked up six between them.
The bleach-blonde off-spinner Dan Cullen was touted a few years back as a possible replacement for Warne, and given a central contract by Cricket Australia.
Like Warne, he learnt his craft from Terry Jenner. But the 23-year-old has been a disappointment, and was dropped even by his state side, South Australia.
The pace department is better resourced. Though he does not open the bowling, Stuart Clark has proved himself a worthy replacement for Glenn McGrath.
Brett Lee has revelled in his role leading the attack. Mitchell Johnson, 26, clearly has great promise. Dennis Lillee has called him a "once in a generation bowler". Speed king Shaun Tait, 24, is also a threat, even if his three Test matches have yielded only five wickets.
The Tasmanian fast-medium bowler, Ben Hilfenhaus, is a "Bradman Young Cricketer of the Year" and now boasts a central contract.
Looking into the future, the batting line-up may well lose much of its menace, especially when Matthew Hayden follows his former opening partner Justin Langer into retirement.
Absent for the third Test match in Perth, Hayden was sorely missed. His replacement Chris Rogers is clearly a class act - he has scored more than 8,000 first-class runs - but he is no Hayden. He is also on the wrong side of 30.
Phil Jaques, Langer's replacement, is averaging more than 50 in Tests but looks happier when Hayden is at the other end. Like Rogers, he lacks the "fear factor" of his senior partner.
A few months back there was a strong feeling Australia's A side would defeat most of the other Test nations. Now some of the swagger and self-confidence has gone
Perhaps the long-term option is to promote Mike "Mr Cricket" Hussey up the order to opener, the position he made his own at Western Australia.
On the batting front, Australia may be slightly concerned that the most in-form batsman in state cricket right now is Simon Katich, who has had a brilliant season for New South Wales. He is 32 and no longer has a national contract. The Victorian Brad Hodge averages 58.42 in his five Test matches, but is 33.
That said, Adam Voges, the 28-year-old big-hitting West Australian, would find a place in the middle order of most international outfits.
And what of the coaching side?
Though Shane Warne was never a fan, John Buchanan was the kind of perfectionist who demanded and received similar standards from his players.
His affable successor, Tim Nielsen, does not appear to inspire his charges in quite the same way. Reading the biographies of people like Ponting and Hussey, it is clear that Buchanan played an enormous role in creating that aura of invincibility.
Just a few months back, there was a lot of talk here about Australia fielding two sides in international cricket.
There was a strong feeling that their A side would defeat most of the other Test nations. Now some of the swagger and self-confidence has gone.
Australia are still the best side in the world. But the gulf they opened up at the top of the table is definitely starting to close. Their playing ranks are packed with talent. But where is the next generation of domineering world-beaters?