The most successful ODI side in history, Australia have lifted the Cricket World Cup trophy a record five times, including three consecutive wins between 1999 and 2007. Battered and bruised by unwanted controversy the past year, no one would have given them a chance few months ago when the name synonymous with Cricket World Cup success were in rebuild mode after the ball-tampering saga prompted radical changes in their cricketing culture. The infamous ball-tampering scandal in South Africa led to a one year ban of two key players, David Warner and Steven Smith which derailed much of their title defence plans.
Though things have gone downhill for Australia after their 2015 World Cup triumph, the new-look squad has peaked at just the right time with some good results under their belts coming into the tournament including consecutive ODI series victories over India and Pakistan. With the return of David Warner (692 runs) and Steve Smith (319 runs) who have had fantastic seasons at the recently concluded Indian T20 League and the revelation of Usman Khawaja (5 games, 383 runs, 2 centuries, 2 fifties, average 76), who 3 months ago had no ODI centuries to his name then peaked as Australia beat India 3-2 in the ODI series in the subcontinent, things are looking ominous for the other early favourites this year.
Prior to the India series sweep the Aussies suffered a 5-0 whitewash in ODIs against England apart from other forgettable series results that reflected 16 defeats in 18 concluded matches with the multi-nation event just a few months away. This took them to new lows in the ICC ODI rankings – 6th, their lowest in 34 years. But, World Cups and Australia is a different love affair for they cannot be ruled out in any manner in major ICC Tournaments – especially World Cups.
They have won it in every continent wherever Cricket is played. They have reached the finals in the World Cup for a record seven times, winning five and losing twice – to West Indies in 1975 and to Sri Lanka in 1996. They won a hattrick of World Cups from 1999-2007 and became only the second team to successfully defend their title after the Windies.
The five-time winners have shown exemplary resilience in navigating the tempestuous phase that nearly broke their back and spirit, and the recent away series victories against India and Pakistan are proof of their never-say-die attitude. The much-awaited return of David Warner and Steve Smith from their one-year bans has bolstered the team and boosted the morale of those, who will wear the yellow jersey in the United Kingdom.
Before the action begins, Australia play two official warm-up games that give them the opportunity to fine-tune their playing XI. These matches are different in the sense that the teams are free to play all 15 of their squad to experiment with their lineups and test players for fitness issues. Both games are at 03.00pm and will be telecast on Star Sports and streamed live on Hotstar.
Aaron Finch(C), Jason Behrendorff, Alex Carey (VC/WK), Nathan Coulter-Nile, Pat Cummins, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Kane Richardson, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, David Warner, Adam Zampa
Not exactly the world-beaters they once were, the Kangaroos still pack enough punch to lift the cup for the sixth time. No other team has won the title more than twice.
Strength: The return of Steve Smith and David Warner gives the team strength and stability in batting
Weakness: Injury-prone bowlers are a big worry. No backup for specialist wicket-keeper Alex Carrey
When Langer was appointed after Darren Lehmann stepped down after the ball-tampering affair, a key part of his brief was to torpedo the notorious win-at-all costs culture under then skipper Smith and his abrasive deputy Warner. A buzzword of his now is “respect” and he took the team to the World War I battlefields of Gallipoli on the way to England to learn about “humility and perspective”.
Their mettle will be put to the test at the World Cup and the following Ashes series, with a hostile reception expected from their arch-rival English fans, with Smith and Warner in the firing line.
“We’re ready for it,” Langer insisted. “If we’re under siege the second we get off the plane, we’re ready for it.”
Since returning to the Australian squad in recent weeks, Smith, 29, and 32-year-old Warner have kept a low profile, with all-rounder Glenn Maxwell saying they were “a little bit more reserved” in the dressing room, and were hungry to show what they could do on the pitch. They have already shown a taste of what to expect. Former coach Lehmann tipped the pair to make a big impact.
“He (Smith) will be exceptional at the World Cup,” Lehmann told Macquarie Sports Radio. “People are worried about the break they have had with 12 months out, but you see them in the Indian T20 League performing and making runs.
“David Warner is an excitement machine, at the top of the order he can set it alight. If he has a really good tournament… they’ll be hard to stop.”
The starting XI is firming up but the batting order remains in flux, with Langer yet to decide who will open, with Finch, Warner and Usman Khawaja all in the running. Smith is expected to come in at three or four with Shaun Marsh and Maxwell making up the top order followed by all-rounder Marcus Stoinis. The pace attack will almost certainly feature Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Coulter-Nile and Jason Behrendorff, but questions remain as to whether Nathan Lyon or Adam Zampa will claim the spinner’s spot.
Stripped of their roles as captain and vice-captain respectively and banned for 12 months for their involvement in the ball-tampering scandal during the Test series against South Africa in March last year, both Smith and Warner will be using the sport’s biggest platform to make amends for their indiscretion in Cape Town. It remains to be seen if Warner is given his usual opening slot or made to bat at number three. Only once in 104 ODI innings has Warner not gone in as an opener.
Given the depth of talent and competition for spots, there were a number of tough calls the selectors had to make to settle on the 15-man squad. The squad does not include in-form batsman Peter Handscomb and fast bowler Josh Hazlewood, while the likes of D’Arcy Short, Ashton Turner and Matthew Wade also missed out, clearly showing the depth in the setup. A depth that augurs well for them in the World Cup.
The only recent change has been fast bowler Jhye Richardson who was ruled out after failing to recover from a dislocated shoulder, with namesake Kane Richardson replacing him. He picked up the injury during Australia’s series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates in March, but was included in the squad for the World Cup.
The Australians are the most consistent performers in the world cup – never losing a semi-final and making the finals on seven occasions out of 11 world cups which shows how well they soak the pressure in crunch situations. It was famously said that you can’t be assured of a win against Australia until the last ball of the match is bowled.
This is relevant in their semifinal wins in 1996 world cup when they choked the West Indies team to win narrowly by five runs or a dramatic tie against South Africa in the 1999 World Cup semifinal. The Aussies know how to win big games and with their ability to raise their game in big tournaments, Australia definitely can defend their title.
With the likes of Aaron Finch, Travis Head at the top and all-rounder Glenn Maxwell towards the end, the Australian batting looks strong and the return of Warner and Smith boosts their chances even more.
Lethal Bowling Attack – Australia has always been gifted with outstanding bowlers throughout their cricketing history. They had a spin wizard like Shane Warne and fast bowlers like Glenn Mcgrath.
Even now, their fast bowling is equally equipped with the likes of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Billy Stanlake and Josh Hazlewood who can blow the opposition batsman with their quality pace. And with the conditions assisting their style of bowling, they might prove to be lethal for the opposition.
While their spin department is not too strong, but any of Adam Zampa, Ashton Agar or Nathan Lyon might step up on the day when it is required the most.
AUSTRALIA AT THE WORLD CUP
Though they have won the World Cup a record five times, they are also the only team considered as tournament favorites for every world cup, right from 1975 to present. The team has played total 85 world cup matches, the highest of any team. Its overall win-loss record gives it the highest win percentage among all teams playing the world cup, with one tied match and two being abandoned due to rain.
Played – 85 | Won – 41 | Lost – 61 | Tied/No Result – 3 | Win percentage – 71.76%
1975 – runner-up 1979 – out in group stages 1983 – out in group stages 1987 – champions 1992 – out in round-robin stage 1996 – runner-up 1999 – champions 2003 – champions 2007 – champions 2011 – quarter-final 2015 – champions
– Australia’s leading run-getter in the world cups is Ricky Ponting with 1743 runs in 46 matches at 45.86 with five centuries and six fifties. He’s followed by Adam Gilchrist (1085) at 36.16 and Mark Waugh (1004) at 52.84 at second and third spot respectively in the list
– Ponting’s five centuries is also a tournament record for Australia followed by Mark Waugh (four) and Matthew Hayden (three). 2015 World Cup winning captain Michael Clarke and Gilchrist have struck eight fifties each – the joint most for Australia
– Hayden’s tally of 659 runs at the 2007 World Cup is most by an Australian batsman in a single edition. He struck three centuries and a fifty averaging 73.22
– Andrew Symonds who averages an astonishing 103 from 13 innings has the best average among the Aussies. Clarke follows with at second with 63.42 at second followed by Steve Smith (56.87)
– Ponting, the three-time world cup winner, has hit the most no. of sixes with 31 followed by Hayden (23) and Gilchrist (19). He also jointly holds the record for most sixes in an innings alongside Gilchrist with eight which he smashed against India in the 2003 World Cup final
– David Warner blasted 178 off 133 against Afghanistan in the 2015 edition which is the highest by an Australian at the event. Hayden with 158 vs West Indies in 2007 and Gilchrist with 149 vs Sri Lanka in 2007 final complete the top-three
– Glenn McGrath leads the wicket charts with 71 scalps in 39 matches spread across four editions. His tally is also the all-time best in world cup history. He averages 18.19 and boasts of an economy of 3.96. Next on the list is Brett Lee with 35 wickets in 17 matches followed by Brad Hogg who took 34 wickets in 21 matches
– McGrath also holds the record for most wickets in an edition – 26 wickets at 13.73 at the ICC World Cup 2007. Shaun Tait with 23 wickets (WC 2007) and Lee with 22 wickets (WC 2003) occupy the second and third spot respectively
– With 7/15 vs Namibia in February 2003, McGrath also has the all-time bowling figures in world cup history. Andy Bichel emulated his tally in the same edition with seven wickets against England but McGrath edges ahead having given five less runs
– Nathan Bracken has the best bowling average of 16.12 among the bowlers with 10 matches being the minimum cut-off. Lee (17.97) and McGrath (18.19) are at the second and third position respectively
– With a minimum cut-off of 10 matches, Lee has the best strike-rate among the bowlers with 23.5 in 17 matches followed by Shaun Tait (24) and Bracken (26.8)
– Gary Gilmour and McGrath each have two five-wicket hauls – the joint most among the Australians. Mitchell Marsh, Alan Hurst, Ken MacLeay, Andy Bichel, Starc, Dennis Lillee, Damien Fleming, Brett Lee and Craig McDermott are the others to have taken the five-wicket haul
– Gilchrist, with 52 dismissals (45 catches, 7 stumpings) leads the wicketkeeping charts followed by Brad Haddin’s 29 (all catches) and Ian Healy’s 21 (18 catches, three stumpings)
– For a non-keeper, Ponting has also taken the most catches – 28 – which is also the most by any player in the history of the showpiece event
– Warner and Smith combined to add 260 for the second wicket against Afghanistan in Perth in March 2015 which is the highest ever partnership for any wicket by an Australian pair at the quadrennial tourney
– Ponting’s 46 world cup appearances is also the most from his country. He has also led them in 29 matches which is also a world cup record
– Overall, Australia have played 85 matches, winning 61, losing 21, one ending in a tie and two producing no results
– 417/6 is vs Afghanistan is Australia’s and World Cup’s highest team total. Their biggest victory margin (in terms of runs) also is against Afghanistan – 275 runs which is a world cup record
Hosting the tournament for only the second time four years ago along with New Zealand, Australia were not overwhelming favourites to lift the trophy but they still became champions at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground.
It will not be surprising at all if the current team, captained by Aaron Finch, triumphs at the hallowed Lord’s on July 14th. They certainly have the wherewithal to go all the way and record what could be an unprecedented sixth title.
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