March 13, 2011

Australia need a workout

It's been all too smooth sailing for Ponting's men so far. They need a tough match against Pakistan

Michael Hussey's arrival at the World Cup couldn't have been better timed for an Australian team that remains undefeated whilst enacting a group impersonation of the Invisible Man. In addition to the undoubted boost his versatility provides to the batting order, Hussey's unbridled enthusiasm will be just the right tonic for a team that has endured long waits in between matches and then experienced very little challenging cricket.

Hussey's enthusiasm is infectious. If he's not playing a match, he loves to bat and bowl in the nets and then practise fielding. Then, when the daylight disappears he's happy talking cricket. Even if he doesn't enjoy it, he's earned the nickname "Mr Cricket". His brand of enthusiasm, complemented by a couple of serial pests in the team (taking the mickey and playing practical jokes), is the right mixture to help endure long, mind-numbing breaks between matches.

The washout against Sri Lanka, when the match was so evenly poised, must have been a major disappointment to the Australians. They were relying on that game as a tough workout to tune up for the knockout stage, especially after New Zealand provided such meek opposition. To then have a week off, followed by two gentle affairs against the seriously weak Kenyans and the only slightly stronger Canadians, is not ideal for Ricky Ponting's men. Those two games will be centre-wicket sessions with the added excitement of an anthem.

This is why the officials are right to query the wisdom of the minnows' presence at the World Cup. It's like asking a CEO to prepare for a crucial board presentation by speaking to a kindergarten class.

Apart from Ireland, who have displayed a commendable competitive mentality, the performances of the rest of the minnows reads like a struggling student's report card: "Tried hard but need to do better."

The Australians must now hope the consistency-challenged Pakistan team has one of its good days when the two sides meet. Australia desperately needs a tough encounter before they play their quarter-final.

Another frustrating aspect of the tournament for all players is the Decision Review System (DRS). In some circles it's now referred to as the dubious review system.

The DRS has become entwined with the tactics of the game and is constantly being used to challenge 50-50 decisions - two things it wasn't designed to do. The DRS reads as such a complicated playing condition that the Australians could easily fill in their numerous off days scouring the document, including the quaintly named "clarification communication" from the ICC.

The DRS has become entwined with the tactics of the game and is constantly being used to challenge fifty-fifty decisions - things it wasn't designed to do

This arrived as a result of the controversy over the notorious "2.5 metre ruling" that reprieved Ian Bell against India. If anyone unravels the metric mystery, I'd be delighted to hear the explanation.

What I'm eagerly awaiting is the official communiqué that confirms technology is now officially ruining - sorry, a slip of the finger: running the game. The sooner the DRS is placed firmly in the hands of the off-field umpire, purely to rid the game of howlers, the better off cricket will be.

The DRS reared its ugly head again in contentious circumstances in the Ireland-West Indies contest, to snuff out any chance of another fighting Irish victory. The system is fast establishing a consistency rate that compares with the England team.

England has produced two mammoth efforts to defeat South Africa and tie with India, only to stumble like a drunken sailor when confronted by the lesser teams. Their monumental struggle to overcome Netherlands was only surpassed by their gifts to Ireland and Bangladesh.

For now, it's their confidence that needs rebuilding after they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against Bangladesh. England have to beat West Indies to have any chance of reaching the knockout stage. The one thing in their favour is, they've played their best cricket against the stronger sides.

Should England beat West Indies and reach the quarter-finals, beware. In 1992, Pakistan were playing like drones early in the World Cup and were extremely fortunate to reach the semi-finals. They then went on to play brilliant cricket in winning the final against, you guessed it, England. Could be an omen.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator and columnist