ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features
Australia v Zimbabwe, Group A, World Cup 2011, Ahmedabad
Australia's batsmen off the pace
Ricky Ponting's reigning world champions began with a comfortable victory, but the way they struggled against spin suggested problems ahead
February 21, 2011
It was no great surprise that the speed of Shaun Tait, Mitchell Johnson and Brett Lee was too much for Zimbabwe to handle. If only, the Australians must be thinking, we could face the same sort of pace ourselves. A 91-run win was a fine result for Ricky Ponting's men, a solid way to start their campaign for a fourth consecutive World Cup title, but deep down they know they should have made more runs.
Their problem, as it was in the warm-up matches, was that they struggled to get used to the conditions and score freely against spin. It's an issue they need to address, because much stronger opponents than Zimbabwe await them over the next few weeks, and not every team will quiver at the sight of the fast men as Zimbabwe's top order did when they fell to 44 for 4.
Ray Price, Prosper Utseya, Graeme Cremer, Brendan Taylor and Sean Williams sent down 39 overs for Zimbabwe, and by the end the captain Elton Chigumbura was probably wishing slow men had bowled all 50. The pace bowlers, Chris Mpofu and Chigumbura himself, combined for 11overs that cost 76 runs.
It's a lesson that would have been taken in by Australia's upcoming opponents. Ponting spoke before the match of how it is difficult for batsmen to get settled on the slower pitches on the subcontinent, and so it proved once again. Michael Clarke was the only one of the top five who scored at better than a run a ball, pacing his innings well as he has in his past few games.
"We need to play better, there's no doubt about that," Ponting said after the win. "We need to have our own games and our own game-plans sorted out for the better spinning attacks. As the tournament goes on, we're going to need to be on top of our games and we're probably not quite there just yet, but the more we play and the more we become accustomed to these conditions, the better we'll get."
Of course, not every team will use five slow bowlers, as Zimbabwe did. But then, many pitches will provide the spinners with more assistance - Price and company didn't extract big turn, but rather tied the Australians down with skiddy straighter balls and changes in length. Australia's next opponents are New Zealand, who have Daniel Vettori and they might follow Zimbabwe's lead and open with a spinner, as Nathan McCullum did against Kenya.
If that happens, it's all the more important that Brad Haddin and Shane Watson go after the seamers with the new ball, which they didn't do against Zimbabwe. There was one big over, when Haddin showed how he likes the ball coming on to the bat, driving Mpofu over wide mid-off while Watson pulled viciously, but after 13 overs, Australia were 32 for 0. Again, Haddin got a start and failed to go on with it, a trend that Ponting wants him to turn around. It won't be easy if spinners keep bowling up front.
"That's something that me and Brad are going to have to continue to get our heads around but also, when a spinner comes on, knowing that we don't have to take a lot of risks," said Watson, who was the Man of the Match for his 79. "With there only being two guys out on the boundary, just playing good shots [is enough] and hopefully we can get off to a much better start next time and take a bit of pressure off the middle order."
Within that middle order Cameron White's scratchiness is becoming a bit of a concern. At No. 5, he is supposed to be the man who lifts the tempo after a platform has been set, but he needed a lesson from Ahmedabad's rickshaw drivers on how to pierce a gap. Not since Australia's tour of India back in October has White constructed a really strong one-day innings, and although Ponting has given him some advice, he does not believe White's form is an issue.
"I had a good chat to Cam yesterday at training, about his batting and about what I feel he needs to do and what he needs to work on over here," Ponting said. "The position that he's batting in the order in these conditions is vastly different than what it is in Australia. When you go in in Australia on the good, hard, bouncy wickets it's a bit easier to get off strike and rotate strike. It's a lot harder to do it here when there's good quality spinners bowling and the field generally comes in when you have the loss of a couple of quick wickets. I'm not worried about him at all."
As White and Clarke chipped the ball around, and the innings ticked past the 40th over, acceleration didn't become any easier. There were a couple of big hits from David Hussey and Steven Smith in the final couple of overs, but 262 was not quite what Australia had in mind when they chose to bat.
In the end, it mattered little, as Johnson, Lee and Tait passed their first test of the tournament, their wicket tally more prominent than their runs conceded. But the challenges, for both batsmen and bowlers, will only become greater as this World Cup wears on.
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