Underrated Australia remain a threat
A month ago, Australia's Twenty20 captain George Bailey said that he believed there were about nine teams that could win the World Twenty20 title. Three weeks later, Australia slipped to tenth on the ICC rankings. For a few days they were, as far as the ICC was concerned, a worse T20 side than Ireland. It is easy to write Australia off as a Twenty20 team. They have one of the least settled sides in the tournament. Their captain hadn't even played an international match nine months ago. Since the last World T20, when they reached the final, they have had the worst win-loss ratio of any sides except Zimbabwe, Canada and Kenya. Not since Six & Out released Can't Bowl, Can't Throw has Australian cricket been responsible for such an abysmal record.
But opponents will disregard Australia at their peril. John Inverarity's selection panel made some changes when they chose their first T20 squad earlier this year, not the least of which was installing Bailey as captain instead of the incumbent Cameron White. It was a bold decision, for Bailey's T20 form did not warrant selection, but the panel believed a quick-thinking captain was more important in T20 than in any other format, and after leading Tasmania for several years Bailey was viewed as an intelligent leader and tactician. Under his command, Australia have won three matches, lost three and tied another that they eventually lost in a Super Over. Their 94-run thrashing of Pakistan in Dubai just over a week ago is testament to what this Australian line-up can achieve when all goes to plan and barring a disaster against Ireland on Wednesday, Bailey's men have the potential to cause some trouble in the Super Eights.
The squad features a mixture of experience and youth. The oldest player in the tournament is the 41-year-old spinner Brad Hogg, whose selection was just as brave a move as making Bailey captain. He is likely to share the spin duties with Glenn Maxwell, 23, a power-hitting allrounder who was uncapped when chosen in the squad. David Warner and Shane Watson have the potential to be one of the most frightening opening combinations in the tournament, and only Brendon McCullum has hit more sixes in Twenty20 internationals than Watson's 47 and Warner's 46. Michael Hussey remains one of the game's best finishers. Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins are two of Twenty20 cricket's most exciting young fast bowlers. And the man with more T20 runs than anyone else in the world, David Hussey, is also in the squad, even if he appears to have slipped out of the starting line-up. The sum of the parts should be considerable, but whether they will add up to a cohesive whole is the great unanswered question.
Nobody carries the hopes of the Australian public in Twenty20 quite as much as David Warner. Ever since he burst on to the scene with 89 from 43 balls in his international debut against South Africa three and a half years ago, Warner has been the personification of T20 in Australia. If he gives the side a quick start, and sustains it for more than a few overs, Australia will be tough to beat. But on the slow Sri Lankan pitches he will come up against plenty of quality spin, which is his weakness, and finding a way to not only survive that but score briskly against it looms as his biggest challenge.
Few men have surprised the Australian public quite like Brad Hogg has over the past year. Hogg retired from international cricket in early 2008 and quickly disappeared from the spotlight, other than the occasional appearance as an overly exuberant commentator. Even when he was lured back to play the Big Bash League, the attention was on his fellow spinners Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill more than Hogg. But his canny bowling and hard-to-pick wrong'un made him a serious weapon for the Perth Scorchers, who reached the final, and in January the national selectors approached him about making a comeback with the World T20 in mind. So here he is. At 41, Hogg is old enough to be the father of some of his team-mates, but has the potential to be one of Australia's key weapons on spinning pitches.
The Australians enjoy the ball coming on to the bat and are less keen on facing spin, when they are forced to create the pace themselves. So-called "mystery spinners" can be especially baffling to them, as Saeed Ajmal showed during the recent series in the UAE. Maintaining momentum through the middle order can also be a problem, for men like Bailey, White and Matthew Wade can sometimes take a few too many deliveries to get in.
World T20 history
Such has been the gloom around Australia's T20 prospects that it's easy to forget they made the final of the most recent tournament, losing to England in the Caribbean in 2010. They reached the semi-finals in 2007 but the 2009 tournament was their nadir, when they were bundled out in the group stages after losing to Sri Lanka and West Indies.
The most relevant form-line starts when Bailey took over as captain and the new selectors assembled a squad with the World T20 in mind. Since that time Australia have won three, lost three and tied another that they went on to lose in a Super Over. Under Bailey they have had wins over Pakistan, India and West Indies, and in 2012 their record is superior to that of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here