February 14, 2011

A for Attack

Australia's bowling line-up for the World Cup could get a wicket with every ball, but they could also go for plenty

Shaun Tait, Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson, Doug Bollinger, Jason Krejza. Rarely has the word "attack" been more appropriate for a one-day bowling group. Australia have gambled on a wicket-taking line-up as they search for their fourth consecutive World Cup, but it's a strategy fraught with risk. As the former-fast-bowler-turned-commentator Damien Fleming said, "We could be bowling teams out for 50 or chasing 500".

To some extent, Australia have been steered down this path because of injuries to other bowlers. The economical Clint McKay and Ryan Harris would both have been hard to leave out but for foot and ankle problems respectively. Krejza came from outside the 30-man preliminary squad because Nathan Hauritz (shoulder), Xavier Doherty (back), and Steve O'Keefe (calf) were laid up.

But whatever the cause, it has left doubts as to whether their attack can also defend. When they triumphed in the Caribbean in 2007, Tait sizzled and lived up to his "Wild Thing" nickname, but he had the metronomic Glenn McGrath and Nathan Bracken to keep things tight at the other end. A serious knee problem has ended Bracken's career, and he believes Shane Watson is now the man for his old job.

"As we saw through the summer, if Brett Lee gets it right and gets early wickets, he can bowl very tightly," Bracken told ESPNcricinfo. "But they're probably going to look at someone like Shane Watson to play that sort of role. He's going to be the one who's going to have to shut down an end and put the pressure on that way. When the squad was first picked they had Nathan Hauritz for that sort of role."

That means enormous responsibility for Watson, who will also open the batting. John Hastings will do a similar job with the ball if he makes the starting XI, and Ricky Ponting will look to David Hussey's part-time offspin for some economical overs. But as for the fast men, as lethal as Johnson and Tait can be, control is not their forte, so Lee and Bollinger must avoid leaking runs.

It's an unfamiliar responsibility for Lee, who in a past life provided the super-quick yet unpredictable option that Tait now offers. At 34, this must surely be the swansong for Lee, who has spent much of the past two years injured but was desperate to play in this tournament, having missed the 2007 World Cup due to a dodgy ankle. Eleven wickets at 24 against England was a good comeback and although his economy rate was over five, Ponting was impressed.

"Brett's been able to turn himself into bit more of a defensive-minded bowler with his changes of pace and a bit more nous," Ponting said when the team landed in India. "He's a different bowler than he was three or four years ago. Shaun Tait, I just want to let him go, let him run in and bowl fast and take wickets. He's probably not his absolute best yet but he'll work his way up there."

The Tait factor is difficult to quantify. If any bowler at this tournament is to break 160kph, it will be Tait, but he has never played an international match on the subcontinent, and on the slower pitches he might not be at his most dangerous. He no longer plays first-class cricket, and even sending down his maximum allotment in a 50-over game is sometimes too much.

He will be used in spells of two or three overs, but along with the stumps that he will shatter, expect plenty of wides and balls flying to the boundary. And while he's catching his breath at fine leg, the wides could remain a problem if Johnson is bowling. Johnson's inconsistency makes him a hard man for a captain to use, but the expectation to swing the ball won't be as great in Asia, and his one-day record in India of 28 wickets at 23.60 is excellent.

"He and Bracken have probably been the most dominant one-day bowlers, even ahead of McGrath and Warne, over there," Fleming said. "The expectation seems to be that you're not going to swing the ball much over there, so you just run in and bowl fast, hit the deck hard. He uses his slower ball more over there, which is a beauty, and if he continues that record over there, he could have a real dominant series."

Part of Australia's challenge is working out what constitutes their best attack. Bollinger played all but one of the recent ODIs against England and along with Watson could be a more economical option, but he might be the man to miss out from the pace line-up if Johnson, Tait and Lee all play. That also depends on how Australia treat the spin role.

Steven Smith and Hussey could combine for 10 overs but a frontline tweaker is always a good idea on the subcontinent. That means playing Jason Krejza, who in his previous incarnation as an international bowler was seen as an aggressive offspinner who could take wickets but couldn't contain. It's a problem he has been working on and Fleming, who commentates on domestic cricket for Fox Sports, has seen a vast improvement.

"We've been watching him a lot and his economy rate has come down significantly, even in the Big Bash," Fleming said. "He bowled a couple of half-trackers the other night in Perth, but the Krejza we've seen, the criticism was that he leaked too many runs and he's certainly answered that at domestic level.

"The big test is against the subcontinent players, but he got 12 wickets in a Test there. He's the offspinner in Australia who, when he bowls his good delivery, you go 'Wow!' It flights, it drifts in and it turns a mile. With Hauritz and Doherty and Aaron Heal and those types, their variations are more subtle and they don't have that wow factor."

Wow factor is a common theme in this bowling group, and it could make for some fearsome performances.

"If everyone is right and everyone fires, you could see wickets tumbling left, right and centre," Bracken said. "Then all of a sudden the next time, if they don't, then the opposition could get away very quickly."

And if that happens, can wow become whoa? Reining in a runaway opponent like Virender Sehwag or AB de Villiers will be an enormous challenge, but Australia's World Cup hopes could depend on it.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Harsh on February 17, 2011, 19:36 GMT

    Australia,may lack the class of the previous champion teams,but are still my favourites to clinch the title.No team posesses better temperament and tenacity.South Africa and India lack the same professionalism for the big occassion.Remember the Aussies are still the best one day team in the rankings and disposed of England 6-1 recently.Shane Watson,is one of the best cricketers who can change the dimension of a game with his blitzkreig,while Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson are match-winning bowlers on their day.The latter is also a useful allrounder,with devasating power in his strokes.If Ricky Ponting regains form they may well clinch the title.

  • Dummy4 on February 15, 2011, 16:58 GMT

    Shaun Tait, Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson, Doug Bollinger, Jason Krejza. looking gr8 on paper, but in reality they cud not able to take single South african Wicket. only Shaun Tait, Brett Lee bowled well in their first spells,

  • Dummy4 on February 15, 2011, 16:12 GMT

    On paper Current Australian attack are still very Good but if they had an off day they can be taken apart by any confident batting line up,Brett lee.Johnson.Tait are express and wicket taking bowlers but has the knack of leaking to many runss where as their old counterpart Mcgrath,Gillespie,Brackan not only wicket taking bowler but also econimoical whom never allowed the opposition Batsman to get away where as sole spinner Jason Kreza is the soft target for anybatsman,Its required great skill and Excellent field placement for the aussies to contain the strong batting line up

  • Andrew on February 15, 2011, 6:53 GMT

    @Amol_Ind_SA - mate Steyns stats are Tests this is ODIs. Lee is the GREATEST strike bowler ever in ODIs - fastest bowler to 300 ODI scalps, he's more likely to succed here than Steyn (as good as he is)! If you can't wait to see "...De Villiers hammer AUS bowlers..." I can't wait to see Sth Africa CHOKE!!!! LOL!!!! @AdityaMookerjee - mate not sure what you're on about but Siddle played 1st class cricket this week & Lee is the most proven pace bowler @ the W/Cup.

  • rahul on February 15, 2011, 5:43 GMT

    This view of the Aussie bowling is based on team lineups on paper. In practice Aus bowling will not be that different than others. Watson or Hastings will provide the steady seam bowling option and Krejza will only get to bowl with defensive field sets. Only their new ball pair could be more attacking that other teams.

  • Dummy4 on February 15, 2011, 5:32 GMT

    Australia as always are one of the top contenders for the title. You can never count them out. Their bowling in the warm up game was impressive and I think if they bowl like that they have a great chance of lifting the trophy again. I think Jason Krejza has a lot of potential if he can get his length right. Steven Smith is also very good.

    Their main issue, however, seems to be their batting against spin. They can get off to good starts but once Watson gets out, you have players who come in facing the spinners and they tend to struggle. They will really miss Mike Hussey. Also, I don't understand why Shaun Marsh wasn't picked. He was amazing in the first IPL and his recent form against England was awesome. I think that's a big mistake by the Aussie selectors. It's like India leaving out VVS Laxman in the 2003 world cup and picking Dinesh Mongia instead.

  • Aditya on February 15, 2011, 4:45 GMT

    The bowling of Australia, may be ' wow', but they are the most underwhelming batting side, apart from the West Indies, in the top six teams of the world. I would have gone with Siddle, Bollinger, Tait, and Johnson. Siddle and Bollinger exhibit 'nous', more than Lee. Siddle, I believe, is injured. The one to ponder about is Johnson. How will he fare on the Indian subcontinent? One doesn't need a 'wow' spinner in India, if the spinner is an off spinner. A right arm off spin bowler in India, needs to keep it tight. The spin on Indian wickets is generally slow. With slow turn on Indian wickets, the batsman usually has to insure that he will not be beaten in the air, and he has to keep in mind simultaneously the turn, the pitch offers. This is quite a challenge, if one is new to India, not if one is an Indian batsman.

  • Amol on February 15, 2011, 3:19 GMT

    YEah, rightly said. I can't really wait to see Sehwag and De Villiers hammer AUS bowlers, especially Johnson and Kreja.

  • Amol on February 15, 2011, 3:12 GMT

    Nampally: All your theory is based one weak factor: **IF** injury happens to Lee and Steyn. Good News: Lee was always injury prone and he breaks down frequently. Andit's possible with him. But I only hope he doesn't, so that it gives an opportunity to Sachin and Company to milk runs off him. Bad News: Steyn is not (injury prone). Any guys who takes 238 wickets in just 40-something tests proves how much he can hold on without breaking. Plus he has the stats to prove on IND pitches.

  • Philip on February 15, 2011, 0:59 GMT

    If Jason Krejza gets too expensive, they can always use SPD Smith instead. Smith only goes for 5.23 rpo in ODIs and to show that's no fluke he goes for 5.25 in List A matches. Krejza's List A economy rate? A terrible 4.99 by comparison. Of course in ODIs/World cup warm-ups Krejza goes for a lot more, over 5.7 rpo. The catch? That's just two matches worth, making that statistic about as useful as Krejza's batting strike-rate which is higher than SPuDs.

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