Ricky Ponting will lead Australia in its quest of a fourth successive World Cup and, according to Greg Chappell, “Australia will need contributions from everyone to win. If they treat it as an adventure and work for each other they have a realistic chance.”
Where once it was in boats carved by hand and steered by the soul, the Aussie cricketers flew in a jumbo steered by mathematicians hiding in machines.
The last time the World Cup (WC) was played on the sub-continent the one-day game was in the control of bookmakers with exotic names like “Mr. John”.
This was the time of the desert storm and Sharjah abounded with benefactors and beneficiaries. Every cricketer, it seemed, had two humps!
Where cricket was once a pastime it had become an addiction. Now, into the second decade of the 21st century, it is not so much a “brave new world” as a world full of compromise and conflicts of interest.
Australia played India in a warm-up the other night and the rush for tickets the week before spoke of a nation hungry to devour Tendulkar’s exploits. A world that holds its breath when Sehwag is batting and millions of nubile ladies swoon when Yuvraj picks up his bat.
In the context of the WC this match was significant. These were the two marquee sides that would generate the most avid, some would say rabid, interest among an audience that loves to hate the Aussie “villains”. After all, every pantomime has to have one. Harbhajan the wronged turbanator against the hand-spitting umpire-berating “evil” Punter.
India rested two of their three trumps in Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan. The other, Sehwag, scored a restrained 50 but still struck at almost a run a ball. India remain vulnerable to pace and Lee was a standout.
Ponting was untroubled when he batted and remains Australia’s best with Watson. Paine was scratchy both, behind, and in front of the stumps. On this showing Haddin will be first choice.
Australia can win for a fourth time if they do not treat it as an audition for the IPL. Players, coaches and administrators, all have one eye on the riches that blind in the IPL. Ponting, Clarke and Johnson have no such distractions. For all the hand-wringing over Clarke’s credentials, he will be a key member if Australia is to four-peat.
All of Australia’s games, except against New Zealand, are day-nighters and dew will be a factor under lights. The first game is against Zimbabwe at Ahmedabad on the 21st of February.
Australia has played Zimbabwe 27 times and has lost once, in 1983, when Duncan Fletcher turned in a man of the match performance to sink Australia. As England coach, later in his career, Fletcher had a penchant for getting up Ricky’s nose.
There are no easy games in the World Cup and the proverbial banana peel is always lurking.
Spin and fielding are Zimbabwe’s strong suits and in Prosper Utseya they have an aptly named offspinner. Ray Price, their left arm spinner has nothing of Mr. Perpetual Motion’s aggressiveness, but will play it tight. Australia will need to assert themselves from the first ball. They have to treat Zimbabwe with respect and play with intent.
This first game will set the tone and Ponting’s men need to make a statement. Lee, Tait and Johnson can all lay down their markers. I expect Australia to have too much firepower for an emerging Zimbabwe.
The Motera stadium, just out of Ahmedabad, is on the banks of the Sabarmati River and seats 50,000. The temperature in February ranges from 17-32°C and the evenings are cool by Indian standards. Bowling and fielding under lights can be tricky. Australia will do well to win the toss and bowl.
The second match against New Zealand at Nagpur on the 25th of February will be big brother versus little and Australia should ensure they put this troublesome brat in its place. It will not be easy as new coach John Wright is as shrewd as Shylock.
This will be played at the VCA Stadium which is the most modern in India. It is not surprising as this is the hometown of the BCCI’s President, Shashank Manohar. The press box seats 200 and putting aside the fact that it is miles out of town, it is a white elephant to be proud of.
Once again the toss will be critical and this time Australia will want to bat first as the dew will not dissipate till midday.
For the third match Australia travel to Colombo for another day/nighter on the 5th of March. This eight day break is a double-edged sword. It can give players with niggles a chance to recover. It can also stall any momentum the team has been building.
Sri Lanka will be coming off an easy game against Kenya so may be undercooked. This will be a pivotal game and Australia can assure themselves of top place in the group with a win here. This is assuming they have won against Zimbabwe and New Zealand.
Australia round off their group stage with games against Kenya, Canada (both at Bangalore) and Pakistan in Colombo.
Should Australia top their group they will play the quarterfinal where they started in Ahmedabad. This could be against either Bangladesh or the West Indies.
Australia needs contributions from all the batsmen. It will not be enough to rely on one or two. Watson will have to call early and loud and cannot afford to sell anyone down the river. The bowlers have to be disciplined and the fielding has to be relentless.
In Clarke, David Hussey, Cameron White, Smith and Johnson they have world class fielders and runouts will be crucial. Ponting will field at short cover or mid-wicket and he remains deadly at throwing down the stumps. This could be Australia’s edge as the only other team with these fielding skills is South Africa.
Ponting has not lost a match as World Cup skipper. In Steve Bernard, who has won all three Cups in his watch as Manager, he has an ally that will be meticulous behind the scenes. A fourth World Cup for Ponting is not out of the question and it will be no thanks to Nielsen.
It may also surprise The Roar‘s meticulous keeper of Australia’s foibles and fables, Roarer Sheek. He is right in stating even a WC victory will not hide the hubris of CA’s administrators.
A Sri Lankan writer has urged Sangakkara not to win the WC as this will embolden the incumbent board members to carry on their calumny. It would seem most boards are peopled by men in drag and perhaps Dame Edna may be suitable as CA’s next CEO.