It took 35 games and 12 years. But, finally the day came when Australia lost a World Cup game. And it was only fitting that the end came against Pakistan, the last team to have defeated them in a World Cup match, and that wasn’t even in this millennium! However, Australia’s loss to Pakistan was only part of a growing proof that they aren’t invincible anymore. The Aussie batting devoid of their batting super stars of yore and burdened owing to their struggling captain Ricky Ponting, were apathetic with the bat against Pakistan and that fitting brought down the curtains to their winning campaign of over a decade.
Despite the loss, the Aussies would be confident going into the quarter finals against India at Ahmedabad, on Thursday. However, they need a few things to go right for them on that day else they could struggle against India, who themselves have a number of problems of their own. First and foremost, their captain Ponting needs to get among the runs. It has been a while since Ponting registered a big score and there cannot be a bigger occasion that the knockout phase of the World Cup. Also, the times have changed since the days he used to struggle on the subcontinent wickets, or perhaps the pitches themselves have changed to reduce Ponting’s woes. Whatever be the reason, his great record against India should inspire him to roar back to form. Add to it, his one time nemesis Harbhajan Singh isn’t the threat he once used to be, even on Indian wickets. And so, the Australian captain would be desperate to set things right against India.
If Ponting fires, a lot of Australia’s woes would be automatically reduced. But, that would be far from easy as he would be under extreme pressure from all corners. It would be intriguing to see how Ponting responds in such a situation. He is a great player no doubt, but aspersions have been cast over his leadership abilities following the team’s declining fortunes in recent years. One loss against India and, who knows, it could be the end of the road for Ponting as both captain and player. The Aussie selectors are known to take such harsh decisions so no one would be surprised if something like this transpires.
Apart from Ponting, one time all rounder Cameron White’s form is another major cause of concern for Australia. While his bowling no longer inspires confidence in anyone, even his batting hasn’t been special in this series. Still, the team has been backing White to perform since he has come up with some exceptional innings in the past, or to be fair they don’t have an option since there isn’t anyone else as explosive in the squad. But, it is about time White shapes up to the challenge. Like his skipper, a loss against India might well put the much younger White’s career in jeopardy, if he does not lift his performance.
Even as a couple of batsmen need to set their act right, improvements are needed in the bowling department too from an Australian point of view. The good news first though. Brett Lee has been exceptionally good in the tournament and has kept his side in the hunt throughout. Very few gave him a chance to make a comeback, leave alone do well, following a career-threatening injury. But, the fact that he has not only returned to one-day but has also reclaimed his spot as the number one strike bowler in the team stands testimony to his dedication and desire to do well for the country. Bowlers from some of the other countries must take a leaf out of Lee’s book and inspire themselves to greater things despite having gone through dreaded times. Lee has been fantastic with the ball in the tournament and nearly pulled off a win for his side singlehandedly against the Pakistanis.
Even though a majority of the blame for the defeat against Pakistan must be taken by the batsmen, the bowlers too could have done a better job, and this applies to the rest of the series as well. In spite of a number of years of experience, left arm seamer Mitchell Johnson remains unpredictable as ever. Not long ago, he was at the peak of his game only to fall ludicrously. He rose again from the ‘ashes’, but is yet to regain the control to be termed as reliable. The Aussies would be desperate for an improved performance from Johnson as it would help Lee build up further pressure. Johnson wasn’t bad in the losing effort against Pakistan, but he needs to be a bit more penetrative.
A lot cannot be said in praise or criticism of the other pacer in the side, Shaun Tait, since he has been earmarked as the ‘lottery’ bowler by the Aussie camp. Like in the 2007 edition, there will be days when he will fire and come off like a raging bull and, on other days, will be treated like a leopard that has lost its habitat. The issue for the Aussies is that, unlike 2007, they don’t have a Glenn McGrath at the other end, who can keep things extremely tight and force the opposition to go after Tait, losing their wickets in the process. This is why the performance of Johnson will be all the more important. He needs to keep things extremely tight even if the wickets aren’t falling in his kitty as even Lee is an out and out attacking bowler and is bound to go for a few runs at times.
The spin department is also an Achilles’ heel for the Australian camp. Jason Krejza is an earnest bowler, but even Shane Warne struggled against top quality batting on the sub-continent wickets. And so, it would be unfair to expect miracles of Krejza. He has been doing a decent job so far, and anything coming out of him against India should be a surprise bonus. Steven Smith hasn’t had much to do either, raising further doubts about Australia’s chances of retaining the World Cup.
In spite of all the issues surrounding the side, the Aussies can be expected to lift their game, come Thursday. So India better be on their toes, else they will be caught off guard.