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Ian Chappell

Can Australia bounce back?

The Symonds fiasco has shades of 2003 and Warne's drug bust. Can Ponting's team recover now like they did back then?

Ian Chappell
Ian Chappell
Andrew Symonds at the Brisbane international airport. Will he be part of the Australian side again? June 6, 2009

Australia have their work cut out recovering from the loss of Symonds  •  Getty Images

In trying to decide which teams might do well in the World Twenty20 tournament, the first question that leaps at you - apart from "Who was the psychiatrist who passed Andrew Symonds fit to resume his international career?" - is, "Can lightning strike twice for Ricky Ponting?"
In 2003, Ponting did a magnificent job of re-focusing the Australian team after Shane Warne was banned for a drug offence on the eve of the World Cup. This time the task of picking up the pieces will be more difficult because Ponting has fewer senior players in the squad.
The timing of Symonds' indiscretion couldn't have been worse. Australia already had a difficult enough task just trying to qualify for the semi-finals. With their loss against West Indies, it's now that much tougher for them to get past Sri Lanka and move on to a Super-Eight Group E that's loaded with talent.
With due respect to West Indies, the most likely scenario is a group that will include India, Australia and South Africa. That's the three best teams in the tournament, all in one Super Eight group. The lop-sided nature of the draw means that one of the big three will miss out on a semi-final berth. Following Symonds' demise, the chances that team will be Australia just rose like a sky rocket on New Year's Eve.
Because Twenty20 matches are brief there's very little time to recover from a setback. Therefore teams with match-winners at the top of the order or among the frontline bowlers are well placed to wrest the initiative. Australia just lost one of a rare breed; a player who can have a major affect on a game from the middle order. Nevertheless, Australia are still well credentialled and rank up there with India and South Africa. Virender Sehwag, Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina can all get a move on at the top of the order for India, and Zaheer Khan is a proven wicket-taker - though his fitness is under a cloud. Australia are well placed with Shane Watson, Brad Haddin and Ponting and the lethal pairing of Mitchell Johnson and Brett Lee to make early inroads.
South Africa rely on a slightly different formula. Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis aren't a typical helter-skelter Twenty20 opening combination, but the team compensate with the sublime skills of JP Duminy and AB de Villiers. Dale Steyn and Wayne Parnell are a capable opening bowling pair, but the real surprise is South Africa's sudden reliance on spin. South Africa have recently stifled Australia's batting with spin in both the shorter versions of the game. The emergence of Roelof van der Merwe to partner Johan Botha, and the guile of Duminy, give South Africa a trio of wicket-takers in the middle- to late overs.
The lop-sided nature of the draw means that one of the big three teams will miss out on a semi-final berth. Following Symonds' demise, the chances that team will be Australia just rose like a sky rocket on New Year's Eve
In the other half of the draw, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and New Zealand will likely fight it out for a semi-final berth. Both Pakistan and New Zealand will be on their guard after a determined Dutch outfit dealt England's chances a serious blow.
Sri Lanka, on the other hand, have to survive a treacherous tilt with Australia and West Indies to reach the Super Eight stage. They should do that, but with Sanath Jayasuriya finally showing his age it'll be tough for them to progress much farther unless players like Tillakaratne Dilshan and Chamara Silva take up the slack.
New Zealand have a wonderful opportunity to reach the semi-finals. However, their top-order frailty and their penchant for stumbling near the finish line will ensure skipper Daniel Vettori has to work overtime - and not just when he's bowling.
Another captain who knows all about the travails of leadership is Younis Khan. If he can keep his players all pointed in the same direction, their strong bowling attack spearheaded by Umar Gul and Sohail Tanvir, with the eccentric but successful Shahid Afridi operating in the middle overs, should be enough to ensure a semi-final berth.
Sri Lanka could well be the team to miss out in Group F, but the other side of the draw isn't quite so obvious. However, what is clear is that a number of teams will be circling like vultures in case Australia are seriously wounded by the Symonds fiasco.
This will be another severe test of Ponting's leadership skills, and he'll be hoping the lightning strike isn't a repeat of 2005. In that year Symonds went on a drinking binge in the UK and Australia then lost an ODI to Bangladesh and the Ashes to England.

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