Warner backs Australia's balance
Over the next two days, the two hosts of this World Cup enter their final pool matches: New Zealand play Bangladesh in Hamilton on Friday, and Australia take on Scotland in Hobart on Saturday. Should both hosts win as expected, they would progress to the quarter-finals in the top two places in Pool A. That would mean if they are to meet again in this tournament, it would be in the decider at the MCG.
The paths taken by the two hosts to this point could hardly be more different. New Zealand have won all five of their games, Australia three of five. The sun has shone brightly on New Zealand; Australia were washed out against Bangladesh, and the forecast for their Hobart game is worrying. Most notably, New Zealand have not changed their side yet; Australia have used all 15 squad members.
Naturally, the players are focusing on their immediate challenges in this last round of games. But for observers, it is natural to look ahead at possibilities and permutations. Should pool results fall according to rankings, Australia would play Pakistan in a quarter-final. If they get through that, it could be India in a semi-final. A win there and an Australia-New Zealand final could be on the cards.
"The team to beat at the moment would have to be New Zealand. But India are playing fantastic cricket at the moment as well," Australia's opening batsman David Warner said in Hobart on Thursday. Asked whether it was preferable to have an unchanged side like New Zealand, or to have given everyone a run like Australia, Warner said both had their advantages.
"When the ball is swinging and you've got Brendon McCullum going off at the top of the order in New Zealand, they don't need to change. They've won every game," he said. "Three of their bowlers are in the top five leading wicket takers. Other teams probably haven't worked out how to play their opening bowlers. I know that for us, we played a couple of loose shots with the ball swinging.
"It's how the selectors feel the right balance is. I think any team that comes up against us and sees myself and Finchy up the top, with Smith and Clarke to come in and anchor the role there, and then you see Maxwell, Watson, Faulkner, Haddin - if we're 2 or 3 for 250 we could finish off very well like we did the other day."
Australia seem to have found their preferred line-up after some chopping and changing throughout the tournament, due to injuries, form and conditions. Of the top eight who played against Sri Lanka on Sunday, only the openers, Warner and Finch, and the No.8, Brad Haddin, were in the same positions as for their first game against England.
The return of Michael Clarke and James Faulkner, the demoting of Shane Watson and moves up the order for Steven Smith and Glenn Maxwell have altered the look of the line-up somewhat. But Warner found during a 260-run second-wicket stand against Afghanistan at the WACA that Smith was a valuable man to have coming in at first drop.
"I hadn't batted a lot with Steven Smith and it was great to bat a long time with him," Warner said. "I think it's great having him batting at three. The head on his shoulders is very good, he's very smart when he's out there. He can play that anchor role as well. Shane Watson did that for a few years as well, and it was just unfortunate he was in a bit of a form slump."
Watson's axing from the side lasted only for that Afghanistan match, and his return at the expense of Mitchell Marsh against Sri Lanka was a success. Watson came to the crease with a strong platform built at 4 for 177 and blasted 67 off 41 deliveries to help Australia post 376, and his move down the order is likely to continue.
"I think the way that Shane played the other day was fantastic," Warner said. "He adopted that approach where he knew he could come in and play his game. I think because he was out of form, he probably had the luxury to go in and play the way he wanted to play. That's the message he probably wanted to send to everyone, that he can still play this form of the game, it doesn't matter where he bats. We've got a great balance there at the moment."
Australia will hope they are not subjected to another wash-out on Saturday - the forecast for Hobart is for a shower or two developing in the afternoon or evening.
"Like any other game, you've got to play the best cricket you can play to beat the opposition," Warner said of Scotland. "We need to win to finish where we want to finish. We've got to keep playing positive cricket. We were a bit nervous probably towards the end in the other game against Sri Lanka, but we got the job done. Now we've got to beat Scotland."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale