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March 22, 2014
The list of trophies won by Australia over the years is long and impressive, but there is one conspicuous absence. For all their success in World Cups, Champions Trophy tournaments and Test cricket, the World T20 has eluded them. Of course the history of the event is short, stretching back only as far as 2007, but the lack of a title in any of the four editions so far staged bothers the Australians. They enter the 2014 tournament with their best chance yet and, according to most reputable betting companies, as the favourites.
It is a favouritism based in part on their recent form against England and South Africa but as much on their batting strength as anything. David Warner, Aaron Finch, Shane Watson, Brad Hodge, George Bailey, Cameron White, Brad Haddin, Glenn Maxwell - that's some pretty impressive depth. The absence of Mitchell Johnson due to injury will hurt them, although Mitchell Starc has developed into one of the finest fast bowlers in T20 cricket, and James Faulkner offers an important all-round option.
In the early days of the World T20, Australia's selectors did not grant the format due respect and assumed the one-day team would do the job. Over time, and with a new selection panel in place, the Australians have realised that to win this event they will need proven T20 performers, regardless of age.
Initially T20 seemed a young man's game; now it is recognised that older types in the twilight of their careers may just have the experience and wiles required. Hence the presence of 43-year-old Brad Hogg, 39-year-old Hodge and 36-year-old Haddin in this squad.
"We've got the most balanced side that I've ever been involved with and a balanced squad," said Watson, who is the only Australian to have been part of the squads for all five World T20s, including this one. "I think the versatility of this squad (is) more than any squad that I've played Twenty20 cricket for Australia. Certainly in all conditions against any opposition we can match up really well, I think it gives us more of a chance to be able win it."
With Warner and Watson to occupy two of Australia's top three batting spots, you would think the other man in that trio might fly under the radar. Except that Aaron Finch enters the tournament as the newly-crowned No.1-ranked T20 international batsman in the world. Last year, Finch smashed the record for the highest score in a T20 international when he plundered 156 against England in Southampton and his clean striking and ability to consistently clear the fence makes him as exciting a player as there is in this Australian squad.
The catalogue of T20 teams Brad Hodge has played for is almost as long and impressive as Australia's trophy list. Surely nobody can be shocked by the presence of Twenty20 cricket's all-time leading run scorer at this tournament? Well, yes, the inclusion of Hodge was a surprise to many people, not least Hodge himself.
Often overlooked by the national selectors during his heyday, Hodge had long since written off his international career when he was recalled in January at 39. But his T20 experience, including in Bangladesh with the Barisal Burners, encouraged the selectors to take a punt. His Man-of-the-Match effort in the second T20 in South Africa this month suggested it might have been a good call.
The Australians like the ball coming on to the bat and in the group stage they will face three teams strong on spin options - Pakistan, West Indies and India. There is also the question of whether their own slow bowling will be good enough. Hogg has experience but with the raw legspinner James Muirhead and the part-timer Glenn Maxwell as his main support in spinning conditions, they do look a little thin in that department.
World T20 history
They might not have won the trophy yet but in three of the four World T20s so far, Australia have made it to at least the semi-final stage. England beat them in the decider in 2010 and last time they were bundled out by eventual champions West Indies in a semi-final. Their low point was the 2009 tournament, when they failed to make it past the group stage.
Australia are five from five this year after beating England 3-0 and South Africa 2-0. There could hardly be a better time to hit their peak. But it was only this summer that things started turning around for Bailey's men - from the end of the previous World T20 until the games against England, their record was LLLWLL.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
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