In the space of 20 months between June 2017 to March 2019, Australia had only managed to win 4 ODIs from 26 starts. It was the worst winning ratio amongst all the teams that will be participating at the 2019 World Cup. The general consensus was Australia had fizzed out of the race to win the World Cup in England. Then out of the blue, the reigning champions won an ODI series in India and whitewashed Pakistan on their home turf. Suddenly, there was light at the end of the tunnel and with the return of Steve Smith and David Warner, the Australians are touted as semi-final certainties.
Australia are peaking at the right time, and in hindsight, probably wanted the tournament to start in April. But realistically, the month-long lay-off has enabled most of the players to refresh and raring to go by the time the tournament kicks off at the end of May.
It is Australia's victorious campaigns in the sub-continent that has rejuvenated the mood in the camp. But while the triumphs against India and Pakistan were outstanding, it came against an Indian team that was mentally exhausted and in experimental mode. Pakistan rested six players to offer the Australian a firm advantage. So while Australia might seem impregnable from afar it is still difficult to get a gauge on their performance in ODI cricket.
It will be seen as a huge disappointment if Australia fails to qualify for the semi-finals, but at the same time, they are certainly not the favourites to win the title for the unprecedented sixth occasion. There is plenty of hype and excitement around Australia's chances, but there are still loopholes that ensure they are not the unconquerable Australian teams of the past.
As usual, Australia's strength remains their fast bowling. Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins have a handy back-up supply of Nathan Coulter-Nile, Kane Richardson and Jason Behrendorff. But it is worth noting that apart from Starc, none of the other fast bowlers have played more than 50 matches. Starc will be the barometer for Australia. The left-arm quick has been sidelined by a pectoral injury for three months and has not featured in an ODI since November 2018.
In a tournament that expected to be high-scoring, the bowlers are bound to come plenty of scrutinies and the inexperienced Australian attack could be a liability. A lot will also depend on Adam Zampa. The leg-spinner as exceptional in the sub-continent, but he will be tested on benign pitches that are expected during the mega event. If Zampa cannot take wickets through the middle phases, it is bound to put additional pressure on the fast bowlers.
Four years ago, Australia had the privilege of playing on the bouncy tracks and the big grounds. It meant the fast bowlers could utilise the short ball to great effect. This time around, however, the fast bowler needs to vary their strategies and be innovative, particularly during the death overs.
It has been over six months since Justin Langer took over as the head coach and the team seems to have adapted to his vision. One of Langer's pivotal acts has been to discover and instill a brand of cricket that Australian needed to play in the 50-over format.
Over a year ago, Australia were trying to imitate the likes of England, but have reverted to their traditional manner of the top order laying the platform by taking minimal risks at the start and then the middle order cashing-in at the end. The theory proved successful in recent times, but it remains to be seen if Australia can deviate from it the primary strategy and if the situation demands a crash and bang approach from the start.
On paper, the batting has a sense of intimidation with the power hitters such as Warner, Aaron Finch, Glenn Maxwell, and Marcus Stoinis. Smith will be the glue that binds them together, but the big question is, can the former skipper rediscover his Midas touch? The form of Maxwell will also be a strong gauge of Australia's batting prowess.
The defending champions also have the luxury of a kind draw. Ranked fifth in the ICC rankings, Australia will have the comfort of playing five out of the first six matches against lower-ranked oppositions. And while there are no ‘easy' games at the World cup, the schedule enables Australia to build adequately for the latter half of the tournament.
On paper and on the recent results, Australia looks a formidable side. There is enough quality in their ranks to ensure they finish in the top four. So can they can claim the title or reach the final? It would not be a surprise, but they will need to start well and not simply rely on the six players that won them the title four years ago.
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