CW World Cup Countdown. Day 16 - Australia
13 Mar 2007
By: Cameron Burge
No team has a prouder World Cup history than Australia. Three times champions, including the past two tournaments, and twice beaten finalists. Despite losing five of their past six ODIs, Australia remains one of the favourites for the tournament, with a star-studded line-up and a long-term culture of winning the matches that matter most.
Lead Up to the Tournament
Six short weeks ago, Australia seemed invincible. A five-nil demolition of second-ranked Test side England was followed by early domination of the three-way home one-day series against the Ashes opponents and a feisty New Zealand side.
How things can change. A controversial rotation policy combined with a strenuous mid-season training regime imposed by coach John Buchanan, a drop in form and injuries to key players led to defeat in the home series finals to England, a three-nil series loss in the Chappell-Hadlee series in New Zealand and the loss of the world number one ranking. The bowlers have been hammered in recent times, whilst the loss of Brett Lee to injury and the cloud over dynamic all rounder Andrew Symonds have left the champions vulnerable ahead of a World Cup they were expected to win in relative comfort.
The Aussie skipper scores runs almost at will, and all around the wicket. Almost impossible to bowl to when in form, he can struggle against the moving ball early. Captained his nation to victory in the 2003 World Cup and led from the front with a stunning century in the final against India. A brilliant fieldsman within the circle, Ponting saves more runs per game than many batsmen score.
Has a cleaner striker of the cricket ball ever played the game? Gilchrist is an explosive opening batsman whose aggressive approach often sees him lose his wicket just when it seems that he will take an attack apart. Has lost consistency in recent seasons, but if Gilchrist bats for 15 overs of more, Australia win - it's that simple. His wicket keeping remains generally top-shelf and Ponting relies on him heavily as vice-captain.
Like Old Man River, he just keeps rolling along. Australia's greatest ODI wicket-taker, McGrath has lost some pace but none of his nous. With Brett Lee absent through injury, McGrath will be more important than ever if Australia is to win. McGrath will relish the prospect of once again taking the new ball. No doubt he will save something special for his international swansong.
Mr Cricket has exploded onto the one-day scene. Whether he bats down the order or at the top, Hussey's scalp is one of the prized wickets in international cricket. With an average in excess of 60, Hussey has become the embodiment of Michael Bevan, the man Australia turned to in a crisis and when the time came to finish an innings off.
Acontroversial selection in the 2003 World Cup, Symonds was largely unheralded when he entered South Africa but announced his arrival with a pulverising 143 against Pakistan in Australia's first match of the tournament. Is returning from a serious biceps injury and there is a question mark over how big a contribution he will make. Australia's four-in-one cricketer: devastating stroke player, handy medium pacer, useful off spinner, and as great a fieldsman as any in the world.
Australia's line-up is capable of amassing huge totals against even the best credentialed opponents. With a mixture of left and right handers, and players who are as versatile as they are talented, the side has the ability to bat well in most conditions and to score heavily in the last 10 to 15 overs. In Ponting, Clarke and Symonds they have a panther-like in-field which saves runs by the dozen and is always looking for run outs.
Despite recent pastings, the attack still has variety: the metronomic McGrath and Stuart Clark, the raw pace of Shaun Tait, the left-arm swing of Nathan Bracken and Mitchell Johnson, the wrist spin of Brad Hogg, Shane Watson's pacy seamers, and handy part-timers in Michael Clarke and Symonds. The real poser is which players best compliment each other in any given game. It is an embarrassment of riches which many of the other sides in the tournament would envy.
Australia's biggest asset is their record: they know how to win big games, and win them well. Despite their recent poor form, they will head into the World Cup knowing they have been there, done that many times before.
Injuries: The loss of Lee and the potential limited availability of Symonds detract from the bowling in particular. Lee has been the pre-eminent ODI bowler in the World over the past 18 months. His raw pace, ability to swing the white ball, magnificent out fielding and useful lower-order hitting will be sorely missed.
Bowling: Australia has conceded its three highest ODI run chases in history over the past 12 months. Team management will be equally concerned with an inability to capture early wickets with the new ball and thereby increase the pressure on the opposition. Brad Hogg is the team's only recognised spinner and has not bowled as well in recent times as in past years. If he does not aim up, the lack of a world-class spinner may prove Australia's Achilles heel.
Team balance: With Symonds injured, Watson has returned to the side in the all-rounder's role. Watson's strength lies in his ability to hit through the line, making his best ODI position at the top of the order rather than lower, where his limited ability to improvise can stifle the scoring rate. Matthew Hayden's return to form has, in a perverse way made the selectors' jobs more difficult - they must find a way to fit Watson into the side, as his bowling can be useful, but with Hayden and Gilchrist firing it is likely Watson will bat down the order at the expense of a more explosive hitter of the ball.
Confidence: The thought that Australia might be lacking confidence has been anathema to cricketing thought for more than 10 years. Nevertheless, the players have openly indicated that their self-belief is low. Should they perform unconvincingly in the early matches, this self doubt may compromise Australia's chances in the latter part of the World Cup.
Three time champions (1987, 1999 and 2003), twice runners-up (1975 and 1996), Australia are usually one of the pre-tournament favourites entering any World Cup. Ruthless, uncompromising and often brutal in their treatment of lesser sides, the Aussies have a proven track record. History shows that you write them off at your peril.
Predicted Finish at this World Cup
Unfortunately for the other countries, Australia has a habit of saving their best for when it matters most. With South Africa, Scotland and Holland in their group, the champions should have little trouble advancing to the Super Eights. The Australians and the other nations all know that if the Aussies play their best cricket they will not be beaten. For this reason, Australia will prevail and make history as the first nation to win three consecutive World Cups.
Australia World Cup Squad
Ricky Ponting (captain), Adam Gilchrist (vice-captain), Nathan Bracken, Stuart Clark, Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin, Matthew Hayden, Brad Hodge, Brad Hogg, Mike Hussey, Mitchell Johnson, Glenn McGrath, Andrew Symonds, Shaun Tait, Shane Watson.