Rejuvenated Australia ready for title defence

Australia, the team which has been dominant over the past decade and a half, winning four out of the last five World Cups, suddenly went into a dark phase between June 2017 to March 2019.

In those 20 months, the World beaters, were getting beaten by every team and managed just 4 wins in ODI from 26 matches. Adding insult to the injury was the ball-tampering scandal, due to which their mainstays, skipper Steve Smith and his deputy David Warner were banned for a year.

At the start of 2019, when everyone had written them off from the race to win the World Cup, they bounced back in style to win two away series in India and against Pakistan at UAE. The team has peaked at the right time and now with the return of Warner and Smith, the defending champs are once again in the contention to win the World Cup.

Looking at the Aussie squad for the World Cup, their success in the last two series victories came from good performances with the bat, sans Smith and Warner. Aaron Finch – who has returned back to form in the Pakistan series by smashinig two centuries – and Usman Khawaja suddenly became a successful opening combination. With Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis and wicketkeeper Alex Carey, also provided a good touch, helping the team rise from ashes. But now with the return of Smith and Warner, it has given a selection predicament to coach Justin Langer. Khawaja is likely to drop down the order and Marsh might have to pave the way for Smith.

Australia’s strength also lies in their fast-bowling. Along with Starc and Cummins, they also have the likes of Behrendorff, Kane Richardson and Nathan-Coulter-Nile. Starc was the strike bowler for the Aussies during the last World Cup but one can’t expect the same performance from him this time. Having been out of the side for most part of last year, Starc is on a comeback trail and has not featured in an ODI since November 2018. Australia will also miss the services of Jhye Richardson, who was initially named in the squad but was unlucky to miss out after suffering a shoulder injury. Cummins and Behrendorff have been consistent in recent times and they need to step up in the marquee event.

The side has opted for only two spinners in Nathan Lyon and Adam Zampa. In a tournament that expected to be high-scoring, a lot will also depend on them to restrict the scoring in the middle overs. Only one-spinner is expected to feature in the playing eleven and it will most likely be Zampa. If he cannot take wickets through the middle phases, it is bound to put additional pressure on the fast bowlers. With Marcus Stoinis and Maxwell, they also have a sixth bowling option.

Even though one can’t term the Finch-led side, as the favourites they certainly look a formidable team and it will be a surprise if they don’t manage to get into the semi-finals.

NT Bureau