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October 1, 2009
Much of the talk in recent months has been of whether it would be India or South Africa that replaced Australia at the top of the ICC's one-day rankings. But come the big tournament, both the so-called pretenders to the throne have slunk away with nary a whimper, while Australia have taken their obligatory place in the final four. The next obstacle in their path to retaining the trophy they won in 2006 are England, a side they pummelled 6-1 not so long ago.
After reaching a strong position against India in an abandoned fixture and being tested by a superb last-ditch Pakistani effort with the ball, Australia can now look ahead to a third successive game at Supersport Park. Nathan Hauritz, who scampered the winning bye off the last ball against Pakistan, admitted to a feeling of relief, though tying the scores had already guaranteed the team a place in the semi-final ahead of India.
"It didn't really matter what happened on the last ball," he said. "We found out later that if we'd tied, we'd have played New Zealand. But at the end of the day, you want to win every game. It doesn't bother me really who we play. We've been playing some good cricket lately. We've played England recently and it's good to play them, I guess, because we sort of know their games, and they know ours. But it's a new game and a new venue, so it doesn't really matter."
England dumped Sri Lanka and South Africa to most peoples' surprise, and Hauritz was insistent that the 6-1 hammering would have no impact whatsoever on how they performed in Friday's semi-final. "Anything can happen in a 50-over competition," he said. "We've seen India knocked out. India and South Africa are the best two sides in the world at the moment. All that matters is how the team comes out to play. The difference was that we played seven games back-to-back against each other, and it can get a bit monotonous and draining at times. Obviously, it was a fresh start for England over here and they've done really well so far."
Familiarity will play its part though. "We know everybody's strengths and weaknesses, whereas when we played India, we hadn't played them in 18 months in one-day cricket," he said. "As Swanny [Graeme Swann] said in a press conference, they've got the momentum. They won the last game [smiles]."
After India's exit, MS Dhoni reckoned that one of Australia's greatest strengths was the presence of bowlers who were more than handy with the bat. Hauritz agreed, while adding that England possessed similar depth as well. "They've got Broad and Swann and those sort of guys," he said. "I think in this day and age, when you play Twenty20 or one-day cricket, you need to have three strings to your bow. Gone are the days when you were just a bowler. We have Peter Siddle at No.11, and he bats fine as well. I don't think there's too much difference between the two sides."
Much has been made of England's new-found aggression in the highveld, but according to Hauritz, there would be little change in Australia's approach to the game. "In this format, you have nothing to lose," he said. "Paul Collingwood's now batting No. 4 for them and he's done a fantastic job. At the start of the series against us, Owais Shah played his shots, but by the end of it, he was a different batsman. We saw over here how punishing he can be. It's a new game tomorrow."
Having tried a variety of options over the past 12 months, Hauritz now appears to be at the front of Australia's spin pecking order, a remarkable reversal of fortunes for someone who was struggling to get a game for New South Wales. "It's fantastic to be picked," he said. "I had a long time when I wasn't even picked for state cricket and stuff like that. To be constantly picked and to do my job when asked is always rewarding. Whether you're ever Australia's No. 1 spinner is a question, because we've seen there's still a lot of emphasis on quick bowling. It's definitely rewarding to be picked on some of the non-turning wickets in one-day cricket around the world."
Swann's pronouncements and talk of a spin rivalry also got little response from Hauritz. "I get along pretty well with Swanny," he said. "He's pretty out there with the way he speaks, but he just tries to create good humour. At the end of that series, everyone was just ready to move on. Myself and Graeme have been pretty close in the way we've bowled. In the one-day series, they played [Adil] Rashid a bit to give Swanny a break. That dulled it down a bit. In the one-day series, it was our batting that was the key. I don't think there will be too much talk about spin tomorrow. "
While others complain of burnout, Hauritz is relishing his second chance. Over the past 12 months, he's taken 28 wickets in 22 games, while conceding just 4.27 an over. "It's different for me as I've been out of the game for so long," he said. "But for the other guys, it is pretty tiring on the body. Especially this tournament with four back-to-back matches on the trot with one day's rest. At the end of the day, you're playing for your country. There are going to be days when you're sore. But once you step on to the line, it's different. It's busy, but I'd much rather be doing this than something else."
Australia's standards have slipped in recent times, with 12 defeats [and 17 wins] in the last year. But going in to the final weekend of a major tournament, who would bet against them? Whether it's a bye run by the spinner who came in from the cold, or a half-century from a promising wicketkeeper-batsman, Australia invariably find a way. Their closest competitors, by contrast, find dead-ends.
Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at CricinfoFeeds: Dileep Premachandran
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