ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / News
Australia v Pakistan, Group A, World Cup 2011, Colombo
Ponting eager for Pakistan test
March 18, 2011
A delayed flight, a midnight arrival at their hotel in Colombo and one afternoon training session on Friday might seem like a rushed preparation for Australia's match against Pakistan on Saturday. In fact, their build-up has been anything but hurried. Ricky Ponting's men have spent more than a month travelling around India and Sri Lanka, but in between rounds of golf and elephant rides, they've hardly got out of second gear on the field.
So far, they haven't needed to, and they enter Saturday's game unbeaten and with first place in Group A there for the taking. Wins over Zimbabwe and a lacklustre New Zealand were followed a fortnight later by victories against Kenya and Canada. At times their opponents have surprised them with fireworks but overall it has been a slow burn, dampened by the wash-out against Sri Lanka, which was poised to be their first major challenge.
Meanwhile, Pakistan have spent a month in Sri Lanka, stumbling once when Ross Taylor took a liking to the short boundaries in Pallekele, but otherwise steering themselves through to the quarter-finals with relative comfort, including a win over the home team. All that this match will determine is who Pakistan and Australia face in their first knockout game, and whether they play it in Colombo, Dhaka or Ahmedabad. But it will also give Ponting an indication of where his men sit.
"We really do start to feel that the tournament is kicking off now," Ponting said. "We've had our games along the way and the other big game we had in our pool matches was the game against Sri Lanka, which was washed out, unfortunately. We've been really excited about playing this game against Pakistan for quite a while.
"During those longer breaks, we've trained exceptionally hard and trained very, very well. We just haven't had the continuity we would have liked with our games. But we got a couple of good results in Bangalore last week. At this stage we're the only undefeated team in the tournament, which is nice for us, but I think we'll get a better feel tomorrow at the end of the game for just where we're at and how well we're placed in this World Cup."
The Australians will fancy their attack against Pakistan, who have been bowled out for 184 by Canada and 192 by New Zealand in their past three games. But the big challenge will be overcoming a Pakistan bowling group led by Umar Gul, with his swinging yorkers, and the captain Shahid Afridi, who is the leading wicket-taker in the tournament.
The last time the teams met in an ODI, Afridi stuck the ball in his mouth. This time, he'll be looking for bite off the pitch and at the Premadasa, where even Steven Smith was turning the ball sharply before the rain came against Sri Lanka, Afridi could be a handful.
"He has been the standout bowler, wickets-wise, in the tournament so far," Ponting said. "He tends to control the middle of their bowling innings particularly well. He doesn't go for a lot of runs, either, which is probably the main reason he's taken the amount of wickets that he has. He builds up pressure, and if he builds up pressure from his end you can guarantee that the guy at the other end is more likely to strike and take wickets as well. That was one of the big things we spoke about this morning, making sure we play him well.
"They've got a number of match-winning players in their team. If you look through their better-performed player through the tournament so far, you'd look at Afridi and Gul as the two guys who have been their standout players. We know we're going to have to play those guys well tomorrow if we want to win the game. They're a dangerous side. They proved that last time they played Sri Lanka here at this venue, how good a side they can be."
Pakistan were also the last team to beat Australia in a World Cup match, at Headingley in 1999, and Ponting's men have now extended their streak to 34 games without a loss. Making it 35 will be their toughest challenge so far in this tournament, but after a month in second gear, they'll be pleased to finally put the foot down.