The three-time defending champions are heading into the world cup tournament on the back of a humiliating home Ashes defeat and with a few injuries in the bag. Amongst others, Ponting has been out with a finger injury for a while; Hauritz was hoping to make his comeback as the number one spinner but has been ruled out due to a shoulder dislocation and last but not least worryingly, Mike Hussey’s hamstring will keep him out of the side for the duration.
The Ashes loss, awful as it was, was followed up by a very successful one day campaign against the visitors and included none of the above players (except for a short visit from Hauritz). Ponting will almost definitely be fit in time for Australia’s first match, which will give the team hope as Ponting’s record as ODI captain is impressive and those of us who remember the injury-ridden series win against India in India in 2009, will hope he can muster up the same inspiration in his world cup side.
Shane Watson and Michael Clarke will be brimming with confidence after the 6-1 defeat of England and Callum Ferguson, Mike Hussey’s replacement, has a decent one day record and a fan base eager to see him in the side on a more regular basis. The other batters included are the two keepers, Paine and Haddin, the all-rounder Hastings as well as Cameron White and David Hussey, who have both earned their stripes with the bat and can add a little spin to the mix should the need arise.
And the need may arise, as many of the pitches in India will be flat and spin friendly. Visiting spinners, however, have a tendency to struggle so perhaps it’s a good thing Australia have plenty of them at their disposal. In addition to the two part timers, there is Steve Smith, who is still young but has shown enough talent to earn him more opportunities, and – in the unlikely event you still had any doubt that the selectors don’t have a clue – Jason Krejza.
Johnson, Hastings, Bollinger, Tait and Lee make up the remainder of the bowling side. Hastings, the all-rounder, has only played seven ODIs previously but his debut was in India and he managed to take 2 wickets. Whether he gets to play or not remains to be seen, though, as the combination of Tait, Lee and Johnson will be hard to resist. If Tait and Lee can stay fit throughout – which is always a question – this just might be the outfit to watch. They can be expensive, but they also tend to get results. Bollinger is no slouch himself, having toured India before with some decent performances that included a five wicket haul. Australia’s biggest bowling problem may be deciding who to use.
Strengths and Weaknesses
This might be stating the obvious but the key to Australia, at least in the batting department is the captain Ricky Ponting, though he hasn’t been playing much because of an injured pinky. Ponting will be aiming to find the form that saw him be the prized wicket in the line-up. This has changed over the last few years – a broad shouldered challenger has assumed the most prized wicket mantle: Shane Watson can take the game away from a team in the first ten overs and is wildly celebrated when dismissed.
If both Ponting and Watson fall early, this leaves the softer and more inexperienced underbelly of the Australian middle order vulnerable. Callum Ferguson has been in and out of the side recently and Cameron White hasn’t had the best time with the bat of late, although both can be dangerous on a good day. Add to this, David Hussey who can run hot and cold when he wants to and the much maligned Michael Clarke who might just be the glue that holds the middle order together. Nonetheless, a good bowling line-up will lick their lips if they have Watson and Ponting early and start harbouring views of 150 all out.
On the bowling side of things, Australia’s strength lies in their pace battery, Lee, Tait, Johnson and Bollinger can crank up the speed to terrify batsmen and rip through an order, but there are also some flat tracks in the sub continent and that means batters could go the distance. If that does happen this will force Australia to turn to their part timers.
The scheduling doesn’t seem that demanding for Australia, with at least three days between each of their matches plus a few warm up games. Their first match isn’t until the 21st, giving them time to recuperate after a long summer at home. That leaves them just needing to adjust to the conditions: hot and humid days, while on the pitch they’ll be facing flat tracks. This will be conducive to high scoring matches and spin bowlers, which Australia isn’t well armed with but as mentioned earlier, if the fast bowlers click and the spin bowlers can take a few wickets, Australia will be booking a long stay in the sub continent and might even lift the trophy for the fourth time.
Best case/Worst case
Australia’s best case scenario is obviously going to be a fourth successive world cup win. They’re capable of it – they’ve got the talent and they’ve got the captain. They need to stay fit and the middle order needs to keep it together. This is where Mike Hussey will be sorely missed.
Not to cast disrespect on any other side, but it’s hard to see Australia not going through to the quarter finals. The worst case scenario is going through third or fourth in group A and meeting India or South Africa earlier than planned. Sharing a group with Pakistan and Sri Lanka makes it ever so slightly possible. If it happens, they might just lose and not even make it to the semis.
It seems highly likely that Australia will make it to the semis, however, and their group mates Sri Lanka will be there too. Unless Pakistan can pull off a surprise win in the Quarter finals, the other two berths will go to South Africa and India.
The team needs to be fit and stay that way, most importantly.