Tait comes of age to cover Lee loss

There are two reasons why Australia and New Zealand are among the runaway favourites for this World Cup. Firstly, both teams just keep on winning; secondly, they refuse to let little issues like injuries to key players get in the way of their momentum.

When Brett Lee went over on his ankle during a practice session in New Zealand in February, it was widely assumed that Australia's best hope of a third successive World Cup had gone with him. But into the breach stepped the raw gunslinger, Shaun Tait, whose Man-of-the-Match award against England represented a notable coming-of-age.

Two years ago, Tait was flung in at the deep end for the pivotal fourth Ashes Test at Trent Bridge after an elbow injury had laid Glenn McGrath low. But none of the callow youthfulness he displayed then was on show in Antigua. Touching 94mph in a venomous new-ball spell, he beat both Michael Vaughan and Andrew Strauss for pace, then returned in the final Powerplay to extract Paul Collingwood before he had time to settle.

Eyebrows were raised when Tait was named as Lee's replacement as Australia's strike-bowling option. He didn't exactly set the world alight on his one-day debut at Sydney in January, finishing with two expensive wickets as England won the match that began their CB Series comeback, and by the time of his first World Cup outing against Scotland in Basseterre, he had mustered just five wickets in four outings, three of which had ended in defeat.

Since then he has been a revelation, bagging 11 wickets in six matches, and improving his pace and direction with each match. "I'd been a bit disappointed throughout the tournament with my first few overs of every game," Tait said. "I haven't been hitting my straps quite like I should be. So today I just brought my lengths back a bit and bashed on the wicket a bit more. I bowled a lot straighter and controlled it a lot better."

"He's been taking wickets in every game, which is great," the captain Ricky Ponting said. "The pleasing thing is he took a look at his bowling and found an area where he could change things a little bit. It's great to see younger guys working on their games, and then getting some results out of it. Shaun did a terrific job, bowling through the middle of the innings."

Tait's success, coupled with the impending retirement of McGrath, raises the intriguing prospect of both he and Lee tearing in during future Australian one-day games. "I'd love to have both guys in my team if they are going as well as they can," Ponting said. "Brett's got away from the out-and-out strike bowler he's always labelled as - Taity is that for us at the moment.

"The more he plays the more he'll understand the ways to go about bowling in different conditions. Brett's a bit more advanced and he understands his game very well. He takes wickets but he doesn't go for runs, which was something that always plagued him early in his career. He's been the best bowler in the world in one-day international cricket."