S S Ramaswamy
Ahmedabad, Feb 20 (PTI) Four World Cup titles under thebelt but defending champions Australia are not exactly thefavourites this time as they start their campaign for a fifthtrophy with a tricky opener against Zimbabwe at the SardarPatel Motera Stadium here tomorrow.
Australia have been unbeaten in 22 matches in the lasttwo tournaments played in South Africa (2003) and West Indies(2007), under Ricky Ponting.
They have won 23 back to back matches stretching to 1999and have been unconquered in 29 ties, which includes theunforgettable tied match against South Africa in the semifinal12 years ago.
On paper, Ponting''s men hold a clear edge over theAfrican nation led by Elton Chigumbara, but would be eager notto be tripped by the one-time minnows of the 50-over game aswas the case 28 years ago in England.
The Aussies, fresh from a 6-1 rout of their Ashes nemesisEngland in the following ODI series at home, landed in Indiaonly to be rudely awakened by successive defeats in their twopractice games against India and South Africa at Bangalore.
But they are sure to hit the strap on the run when theirbid to clinch their fifth World Cup crown starts.
The Aussies have a fine batting line-up in which ShaneWatson, who opens the batting, and Ponting are crucial in thetop order to lay the platform for others to build upon.
But a question mark remains over the ability of themiddle order batsmen in playing spin bowling on Indianpitches.
Watson has performed brilliantly with the bat in ODIs inthe last year, having scored 832 runs and Zimbabwe''s thinktank would have talked about ways of stopping the Queenslanderfrom taking the game away.
"It''s much different and bigger responsibility in openingthe innings than batting at number seven in the last WorldCup, a role Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden did sobeautifully throughout their career. It''s a greatresponsibility and I''m looking forward to that challenge,"said the beefy 29-year-old yesterday.
Ponting, whose fabulous innings of 140 not out in 121balls in the 2003 World Cup final buried Indian hopes, hascome back into action after a long injury lay-off following abroken little finger sustained during the Ashes series againstEngland, but he has quickly got into his stride with goodhalf-century knocks in two practice games.
It''s the form of the others which is a big worry forAustralia. Without the presence of the injured Michael Hussey,who was adept in playing the slow bowlers on previous visitsto the sub-continent, they lack a batsman around whom theother quick run-getters like Cameron White can play around.
The Indian spinners exposed the chink in the Aussiebatting armoury in the practice game when they triggered acollapse and helped the hosts defend a meagre total withaplomb. .