Ahmedabad, Feb 20 (IANS) For the first time, World champions Australia will start their title defence not as the favourites but banking heavily on their pace attack against Zimbabwe in a Group A match here Monday.
The Australian team is going through a state of transition with the retirement of some of the legendary players like Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchirst and Matthew Hayden, who all played crucial roles in Australia’s hat-trick of World Cup wins since 1999.
The Ashes loss might have signalled the decline of Australia’s dominance in world cricket, but after their 6-1 win over England in the recently concluded ODI series, teams can take the four-time World Cup winners lightly only at their own peril.
Losses to India and South Africa in the warm-up games again questioned Australia’s vulnerability to spin and captain Ricky Ponting and his deputy Michael Clarke will have to show the way to the team while handling the spinners.
Australia have a quality pace attack — Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson, Shaun Tait, Doug Bollinger and Shane Watson — that can destroy any team in any conditions and their hopes of adding their fourth consecutive world title will depend on how their fast bowlers perform on the slow and flat pitches of the sub-continent.
While tournament favourites like India and Sri Lanka are banking heavily on spinners, Australia have just one specialist tweaker in offie Jason Kreza, whose rusty performance in the warm-up game will be a worry for Ponting.
Pace spearhead Lee, who was a part of the last two World Cup winning squads, backed pace as Australia’s main weapon. Lee said the success of New South Wales in the inaugural T20 Champions League in India was a case in point.
“If you get the ball in the right spot if you’re bowling 150kmph (it can be effective) even if you’re bowling on a low (bouncing) wicket. The way the NSW team bowled over here in the Champions League, we had a lot of pace bowlers who did really well and we won that competition. Playing in low, slow wickets like in Delhi tended to suit our pace attack,” he said.
“I don’t really see any problem with the pace attack that we’ve got on low, slow wickets because at the end of the day it’s still fast through the air,” he added.
While Ponting, who is making a return from a injury lay-of after fracturing his finger, has send some signals about his form with two fluent half-centuries in the warm-up games, Clarke is yet to strike form.
On the other end, Zimbabwe are expecting a barrage of short deliveries from Australia.
Zimbabwe batting coach Grant Flower said they have to tackle Australia’s pace attack.
“They have got some very good quick bowlers and I’m sure they’ll be backing themselves against us,” Flower said.
Flower has also taken tips from his elder brother Andy, the England coach, about how to stop Shane Watson, who is in fine form.
“He has been playing brilliantly. I spoke to my brother last night and asked him the same thing,” Flower said.
The Zimbabwe coach hopes that left-arm spinner Ray Price and right-arm off-break bowler Prosper Utseya can trouble Australia’s middle-order.
Australia: Ricky Ponting (captain), Michael Clarke, Shane Watson, Brad Haddin, Cameron White, Callum Ferguson, David Hussey, Tim Paine, Steven Smith, John Hastings, Mitchell Johnson, Jason Krejza, Brett Lee, Doug Bollinger, Shaun Tait.
Zimbabwe: Elton Chigumbura (captain), Regis Chakabva, Charles Coventry, Graeme Cremer, Craig Ervine, Gregory Lamb, Shingirai Masakadza, Tino Mawoyo, Christopher Mpofu, Raymond Price, Edward Rainsford, Tatenda Taibu, Brendan Taylor, Prosper Utseya, Sean Williams.
Umpires: Ian Gould (England) and Shahvir Tarapore (India)
Third umpire: Tony Hill (New Zealand)
Fourth umpire: Daryl Harper (Australia)
Match referee: Chris Broad (England).