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October 1, 2012
Even Australia's captain is running out of words to describe Shane Watson's current form. Four matches into the tournament, Australia's supposedly suspect middle order has barely seen the light of day. Watson is yet to be dismissed for less than 50, has made a tournament-leading 234 runs with a strike rate of 164, has hit the most sixes and is the leading wicket-taker to boot.
He prospered on the bouncy tracks at the start of the tournament, and has remained as effective when they have slowed down. Oppositions have bowled short to him, whether by plan or mistake, and Watson has been unerringly brutal. Others have tried pitching fuller, but his lofted drives have been no less merciful. He has been as comfortable against Dale Steyn's swing as he was against Sunil Narine's offspin. His bowling almost seems an afterthought, given how colossal he has been with the bat, but Pakistan will do well to plan for his steady seamers as well, if they wish to avoid a three-way tie for the second semi-final berth or being knocked out by an Indian victory.
"Things are just falling my way at the moment," Watson said. "Even against South Africa, bowling-wise the wicket of AB de Villiers wasn't one of the better balls I bowled, especially with the field I had. Batting-wise I knew how important it was to get through the first four or five overs with the quality of quick bowlers South Africa had, and then you sort of hope you can get away. You've just got to make the most of it when you can because I know how quickly it can turn and your form can go against you."
Australia arrived at the World Twenty20 barely fending off Ireland for number 9 in the Twenty20 rankings but with four dominant victories, have established themselves as the frontrunners of their Super Eights group. Watson said although Australia had lost the Twenty20 series against Pakistan in the UAE days before arriving in Sri Lanka, that experience has played a significant role in their success at the World Twenty20 so far.
"I think we all knew exactly what conditions we were going to have," he said. "The conditions in Dubai were brilliant practice because what we had there was very similar to what we have here. We know the further the tournament goes, the more it's going to turn. That's going to be a big challenge for us, but at the moment, the top three [are] scoring the bulk of the runs, and when that happens you are able to keep your run rate pretty high."
Australia picked left-arm spinner Xavier Doherty ahead of seam-bowling allrounder Daniel Christian for their match against South Africa, on a drier-looking pitch than the surfaces they had encountered previously in Colombo. Doherty took 3 wickets for 20 having opened the bowling, including the scalps of Richard Levi and Jacques Kallis in the first three overs. With pitches expected to become more spin-friendly as the tournament progresses, Australia captain George Bailey said Doherty's attitude and form was encouraging ahead of their match with Pakistan.
"Xavier handled the pressure of taking the new ball really well. It was a really specific role that we wanted him for today and he got the absolute best result that he could have. To have South Africa three wickets down after that first six overs really put them on the backfoot and made it hard for them to gain any momentum through those middle overs."
Bailey said Australia are also wary of the spin threat their opponents pose. Saeed Ajmal was the leading wicket-taker in the UAE series, with six wickets at 8.66 and an economy rate of 4.33, while left arm spinner Raza Hasan and offspinner Mohammad Hafeez took five wickets between them. Bailey said Australia's batsmen had had trouble reading Ajmal, but that they had learnt from their clashes with him in the UAE and devised new strategies for him.
"I don't know if you can decode Ajmal. He's going to be a key for the rest of the tournament, and will probably become more dangerous the deeper the tournament goes. We've got some thoughts and ideas, but if he comes out and bowls unbelievably, it's going to be tough for sure."
Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri LankaFeeds: Andrew Fidel Fernando
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