Australia foresees four-peat at Cricket World Cup
Wracked by injuries, memories of a stinging Ashes loss and player selection debates, Australia's national team a month ago was set to go into the limited-overs Cricket World Cup in a predictable mess.
But six wins out of seven against England in a limited-overs series and the return from injury of captain Ricky Ponting have the winners of the past three World Cup tournaments feeling upbeat for a fourth in a row and fifth overall.
Ponting's return was tempered, however, by news on the eve of Australia's departure for India that both Mike Hussey and Nathan Hauritz had been ruled out with injuries.
Veteran middle-order batsman Hussey and first-choice spinner Hauritz failed to overcome hamstring and shoulder injuries, leaving Australian selectors with no choice, but to make replacements.
- Ricky Ponting (captain)
- Michael Clarke
- Doug Bollinger
- Callum Ferguson
- Brad Haddin
- John Hastings
- David Hussey
- Mitchell Johnson
- Jason Krejza
- Brett Lee
- Tim Paine
- Steve Smith
- Shaun Tait
- Shane Watson
- Cameron White
The loss of 35-year-old Hussey is a big blow, considering he was one of only two batsmen in form during the Ashes series loss to England and averages almost 52 in 151 ODIs, regularly forced into the role of salvaging an innings.
The Australians remain confident, and have a good record in World Cups on the subcontinent. Australia won the World Cup for the first time 1987, beating England in the final at Calcutta, then reached the final in 1996 before losing to Sri Lanka at Lahore.
Since then, the Australians have won the title at all three World Cups — in 1999 in England, 2003 in South Africa and 2007 in the Caribbean.
Despite the loss to retirement of some of the games greats, including Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist and Matt Hayden, all stars of recent World Cups, Australia is still No. 1 in the ODI rankings.
And it even played like the team of old on Feb. 2 in Sydney. Michael Clarke, booed 10 days earlier for his poor run-rate in a match, hit 82 runs off 70 balls as Australia chased down England's highest score on Australian soil to win the sixth match by two wickets, its best winning chase ever in an ODI.
On the same day, Cricket Australia had some positive news on Ponting.
Cricket Australia physiotherapist Alex Kountouris said the skipper had his first training session since having finger surgery after the Melbourne Ashes test. The series was won by England 3-1.
The reports have improved then, with the latest update on Tuesday.
"He is batting regularly and is expected to transition into unrestricted training soon after the team arrives in India," Kountouris said, adding that wicketkeeper Brad Haddin and allrounder Steve Smith were expected to overcome niggling injuries picked up in the ODI series.
Callum Ferguson and spin bowler Jason Krejza were drafted into the 15-man squad as replacements.
The national selection panel "has determined that the best strategy to ensure a successful campaign is for Australia to enter the tournament with a fully fit squad of 15 from the first game," chief selector Andrew Hilditch said.
Ferguson, 26, averages 44 in his 28 ODIs, while right-arm spinner Krejza took 12 wickets on his test debut in India in 2008 but only played one more test and only made his ODI debut for Australia last Sunday, taking 2-53 in Australia's win over England at Perth.
"Callum has an excellent record in one-day international cricket and played well in the limited-overs match against England in Sydney recently. We think he'll play well in subcontinental conditions," Hilditch said. "Jason toured India with the Australian test team in 2008 and understands those conditions.
"We're certain he'll be a key member of our squad."
On the positive front also was Clarke's return to form when he deputized for Ponting as Australia's one-day captain.
National selector and former Australian captain Greg Chappell said he had been impressed by Clarke's leadership during the England one-day series in the absence of Ponting.
"We've been delighted," Chappell said. "His strategies, bowling changes, everything that he's done — not least winning matches — has been good, and I'm sure that will only be good for him."
Clarke had a poor Ashes series, scoring just 193 runs at an average of 21.44 in five test matches.
In the final one-day match against England in Perth, won by 57 runs by Australia, Clarke, Shane Watson, Brett Lee and Steve Smith all had the day off to rest up for the pending World Cup.
Mitchell Johnson took 3-18 for Australia at his adopted home ground at the WACA, while Shaun Tait bowled nine wides but still managed 3-48.
Before the match, Johnson reminded World Cup rivals that Australia will enter the tournament as the top one-day side, even if they're not the favourite with gamblers.
"I think we've still got a well-balanced one-day side … and we are taking a lot of confidence into it the World Cup," Mitchell said. "We are still the No. 1 one-day side in the world."
Australia plays two warm-up matches on Feb. 13 against India and Feb. 15 against South Africa, both in Bangalore, India.
It plays its first Group A match on Feb. 21 against Zimbabwe at Ahmedabad, India, while its other group opponents include Pakistan, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Kenya and Canada.