ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / News
World Cup 2011
Australia there for the toppling
February 11, 2011
Australia will start the competition aiming for their fourth World Cup victory in a row, but in Ahmedabad on February 23 they will field significantly different personnel from their previous triumphs. While Ricky Ponting remains in charge, having never lost a fixture at the global tournament under his leadership, he is the only true great left in the side. Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden and Andrew Symonds have retired since the 2007 success, leaving with their seriously damaging weapons, while the loss of Michael Hussey to a hamstring injury was an unexpected and potentially very damaging blow.
Amazingly, the last time Australia were defeated at the tournament was on May 23, 1999, when they were upstaged by Pakistan in Leeds. That run towards the title, including the twin epics against South Africa, was a series of great escapes until the one-sided finale. The next campaign had some nervous moments but ended with the greatest obstacle being the weather; four years later in the Caribbean, no team could get close to Ponting's.
This time the rest of the world has a huge opportunity to make things different. Australia have been ranked No.1 regularly without owning the fear or intimidation that came so easily to the previous sides. Often the batting is wobbly and the bowling inconsistent, traits which aren't a surprise given the influx of new faces. In this tournament, Australia are there for the toppling.
World Cup pedigree
Australia's results at the event are unrivalled. In nine tournaments they have reached the final six times, winning on four occasions. The breakthrough came in 1987, an achievement which helped turn the country from easy beats to globe-trotting conquerors. If Australia hadn't slipped in the decider to Sri Lanka, the most exciting side of 1996, Ponting would be chasing a fifth global trophy.
A 6-1 series win against England has given Australian fans hope that another World Cup is there for the taking. It should be remembered that the triumph came against a touring squad suffering Ashes hangover, and in vastly different conditions to those that will be provided in Asia. Their formline throughout 2010 was mixed; they began with 12 consecutive victories over West Indies, Pakistan and New Zealand, and coming after their 2009 Champions Trophy victory, the streak seemed to indicate they had resumed service as the game's dominant force. By the end of the year those early results showed how weak their opponents had been. England, India and Sri Lanka provided much tougher tests and Australia lost each series, until the return to form post-Ashes.
Ian Chappell : Australia begin their 2011 campaign with a surprising number of queries. The biggest ones being finding bowlers to consistently take wickets under sub-continent conditions and batsmen who aren't contained by good spin bowling. On the plus side they're led by Ricky Ponting who hasn't lost a World Cup match as captain. He heads a dangerous batting line-up and if Mitchell Johnson performs at his best on the flatter pitches then Australia will once again be hard to beat. Their most dangerous opponents will be India and Sri Lanka. While I don't expect Australia to maintain their incredible unbeaten run through a third consecutive World Cup, they should qualify for the semi-finals.
Where they're likely to finish
Given Australia's changes and inconsistency leading into the tournament, reaching the semi-finals would be a worthy finish. But that wouldn't satisfy Ponting.
Having grown used to Australian sides being almost infallible, it will be the side's unpredictability and vulnerability that will be most fascinating this time. Previously it was known that at least one of the top six would score heavily and the bowlers would be menacing. Now it's easier to predict where Johnson will bowl than getting a firm guide on what will happen. There are some senior run-makers who will need to hold everything together, and the attack will deliver some frights if the bodies of Brett Lee and Shaun Tait stay healthy. Spin bowling stands out as a major weakness compared with the subcontinent teams that will be happy at home.
Players in focus
Ricky Ponting: Ponting hasn't confirmed it, but something extreme would have to happen for him to continue in coloured clothes after this tournament. He's 36 and has been a waning force over the past 18 months. The big occasions have always inspired him and he starts his fourth World Cup second on the overall run-list behind Sachin Tendulkar. Nobody who saw it will ever forget his 140 in the 2003 final, a display which ripped the game from India. He will need to touch those sorts of heights if he is to drag his team into the latter stages, but he hasn't played in any format since the Boxing Day Test, and how he returns after surgery on his broken finger is anyone's guess.
Shane Watson: There are not many players who have can a regular say on games with bat and ball, but Shane Watson is one of them. After years of wondering if his body would let him be a top-flight force, Watson has graduated to become a feared opponent. He is a punishing yet graceful opener, who is always looking to attack, and stamped himself as an elite ODI batsman with centuries in the semi-final and final of the 2009 Champions Trophy, and has recent form with a brilliant unbeaten 161 in the series opener against England. With the ball, he can operate above 140kph and is one of the few Australian bowlers guaranteed to make the ball reverse, which are key skills in the subcontinent.
Mitchell Johnson: Johnson has had a bumpy career but has been a consistent presence in Australia's major teams since 2007. A muscular and athletic fast bowler, Johnson is like the little girl with the curl. When he's good, he's very, very good. When he's bad he's horrid - but often still manages to pick up wickets. Ponting is a huge supporter of Johnson, having seen all sides of his work over the past four years. He can bat, too, but the Australians would be happiest if he delivered consistent balls angling across the batsmen in the high 140kphs, with the occasional one drifting back.
Peter English is the former Australasia editor of ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Peter English
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