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Friday, February 4, 2011

Australia can be a surprise in World Cup

The 1987 World Cup marked the start of the sub-continent hosting big-ticket cricket events. On the field, though, it started an era which continued for the next 20 years. In a tournament which promised a dream India-Pakistan final, a little-fancied Australia, struggling till then, led by a relatively new skipper in Allan Border, upset everyone's calculations and went on to win their maiden title.

Given a sound platform by the reliable pair of Geoff Marsh and David Boon, the team had Dean Jones, Border and a youngster in Steve Waugh manning the middle-order. The bowling was seam-based, with Craig McDermottBruce Reid and Simon O'Donnell hurling the cherry.

The spin department was in such a shape that Border himself had to push in 10 overs of part-time left-arm spin: hardly a combo that could threaten the best in sub-continent conditions. However, new heroes emerged, with the biggest of them being the 'Iceman' Steve Waugh, who provided quick runs and wicket-to-wicket, variation-filled seamers. The high point was beating Pakistan at Lahore in the semis. The triumph was perhaps the big spurt that Australian cricket needed to climb bigger heights. They lost out to a rampaging Pakistan in 1992 at home, and to an inspired Sri Lanka in the final in 1996, but from 1999 they played so well that they are yet to lose a World Cup game since then!

The captainship baton passed on from Border to Steve Waugh to Ricky Ponting, but the ruthlessness remained.

The closest they came to looking like they were past their prime was just before the 2007 World Cup, when they lost an ODI series to the Kiwis 3-0, but their subsequent performance in the mega event erased all such doubts. This time, though, the demise of the 'Aussie era' seems for real. They lost two Test series in India on the trot. They lost an ODI series at home to Sri Lanka and more painfully, they lost the Ashes twice in a row. Much of it had to do with the fact that most of their greats, who contributed significantly in their success, had retired.

The bowling lost almost all of its teeth with the departure of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne.

The batting, weakened after the farewells of Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden, became extremely fragile as Ponting and Michael Clarke lost form to the extent that their presence in the side was questioned. The less said about the spin angle the better. Spinners were tried and dumped like dust, with the joke being that anyone who could bowl slow could play for Australia. So, is it the end of the 'Awesome Aussies' as we knew them? Yes, to a certain extent. Will it reflect in the World Cup? Probably no. And that is primarily because there are a few factors still going for them.

After all, they are still the No. 1 ranked ODI side! Which means, they are still a very good unit in ODIs. Accounting for all this, though, doesn't take away from the fact that the Aussies are entering into the World Cup with their weakest side ever.

That may be good news not just for the opponents, but for the Cup itself, which, thanks to the yellow brigade's downslide, looks as open and as exciting as ever! 

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