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September 18, 2012
September 19, 2012
Start time 1530 local (1000 GMT)
Twice in their history, Australia have slipped up disastrously against a less than fancied opponent early in a major event. The first instance came in 1983, when a Zimbabwe team led by Duncan Fletcher - who else? - ground down Kim Hughes' XI in the first round of the World Cup. Twenty-four years later, another Zimbabwe side upset Australia at the outset of the 2007 World Twenty20 in South Africa, a result that confirmed Ricky Ponting's side was less serious than required to deal successfully in the game's shortest variant.
There is a pattern to this. Australia took a long time to collectively grasp the tactical and technical realities of the one-day game, despite taking part in the first ODI in 1970-71 then being at the epicentre of Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket, which used the format as its primary vehicle for public interest. Similarly, T20 has taken time to find its place in the thinking of the 21st century Australian cricketer, not least when donning the national colours. The selection panel appointed in the wake of Don Argus' review has plumped for a specialist captain in George Bailey and a team more weighted than ever in favour of T20 merchants. Flexibility is the watchword, and it will not be a surprise to see Australia's No. 3 differ depending on which of David Warner (Michael Hussey) or Shane Watson (Glenn Maxwell?) gets out first.
For all this progressive thinking Australia retain a whiff of T20 underachievement, an appearance in the 2010 World T20 final against England notwithstanding. Their mottled results were confirmed when they slipped briefly beneath Ireland on the world rankings earlier this month, to the disgust of Australians and the delight of their opponents. Now Ireland have the chance to prove themselves worthy of overcoming Australia in direct T20 combat rather than via the vagaries of the ICC's points system.
Ireland will, as ever, offer plenty of fight, flair and the odd patch of eye-catching skill. In Paul Stirling and Kevin O'Brien they have two natural hitters to match Australia's most proficient sluggers Warner and Watson. George Dockrell's mature-beyond-his-years spin bowling will also be a critical ingredient on what is likely to be a dry Premadasa Stadium surface, while Boyd Rankin, Trent Johnston and company will benefit from the sage advice of their newly-acquired bowling coach Craig McDermott. Australia should win, but they should also have beaten Zimbabwe twice before.
Form guide (completed matches, most recent first)
Watch out for
Australia's most incisive bowler against Pakistan in the UAE, Mitchell Starc is capable of decidedly frightening spells of pace and swing. Australia are intent on using Starc and Cummins as the spearheads of the bowling attack, backing their ability to move the ball at high pace over the steadier options provided by Ben Hilfenhaus and Clint McKay. The strategy places plenty of confidence in Starc, who recently has merited it. but there remains the chance that he will lose rhythm and struggle with no-balls. Australia hope Wednesday will not be the day.
Since the 2011 World Cup, Kevin O'Brien has been the subject of a book, the target of plenty of attention from T20 club sides, and a slightly diminished batting presence in Ireland's XI. At the top level of T20 competition, O'Brien has never caught fire in quite the same way as he did against England in Bangalore last year, as a top score of 39* in seven matches at the World T20 can attest. O'Brien knows as well as anyone that he is capable of more, and a striking display against Australia would prove it.
The young pacemen Cummins and Starc appear to have secured their places in the first XI ahead of Hilfenhaus and McKay, while David Hussey appears out of favour and unlikely to displace either Glenn Maxwell or Cameron White.
Australia (probable): 1 David Warner, 2 Shane Watson, 3 Michael Hussey, 4 George Bailey (capt), 5 Cameron White, 6 Glenn Maxwell, 7 Dan Christian, 8 Matthew Wade (wk), 9 Pat Cummins, 10 Mitchell Starc, 11 Brad Hogg
Ireland turned out close to their best side for a narrow warm-up victory over Bangladesh, reversing the results of three matches between the two countries in Belfast in July. They can be expected to field a similar combination against Australia.
Ireland (probable): 1 Will Porterfield (capt), 2 Paul Stirling, 3 Ed Joyce, 4 Gary Wilson (wk), 5 Kevin O'Brien, 6 Trent Johnston, 7 Nigel Jones, 8 Niall O'Brien, 9 George Dockrell, 10 Boyd Rankin, 11 Alex Cusack
Pitch and conditions
The Premadasa Stadium pitch is expected to start dry and get drier as the tournament goes on, so if there is ever going to be any moisture there it may be in game one. However the likelihood is a surface marginally friendlier to batsmen than spinners, with the pacemen hoping for more assistance through the air than off the pitch.
Stats and trivia
"Australia are our biggest threat. If we rock up ready to play and play as well as we can [against Ireland], then I don't think there's a threat."Australia's captain George Bailey is not spending too much time worrying about Ireland
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
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Plays of the Day from the second ODI between England and India, in Cardiff
Plays of the day from the third ODI between England and India at Trent Bridge