S S Ramaswamy
Ahmedabad, Feb 21 (PTI) Holders Australia commenced theirtitle defence with an emphatic 91-run victory over Zimbabwe,after their batsmen recovered from a slow start to post 262for six in their World Cup Group A opener at the Sardar PatelStadium here today.
The defending champions, who did not lose a single matchon their way to titles in 2003 and 2007, thus establishing a29-match unbeaten streak in the tournament, initially rode onhalf centuries from opener Shane Watson (79) and vice captainMichael Clarke (58 not out) to record a competitive total on awicket that looked slow and offered low bounce.
The strong Australian attack, led by left-arm pacerMitchell Johnson''s four wickets, then ripped apart the heartof the Zimbabwe batting by reducing them to 44 for four in notime. The African nation could never recover from those blows.
Zimbabwe capitulated for 171 in 46.2 overs to hand thefour-time winners their 26th win in head-to-head clashes incaptain Ricky Ponting''s record-setting 40th Cup appearance.
It was Australia''s second win in as many ties againsttheir opponents at this venue, which also extended theirunbeaten streak in World Cups to 30, the run starting in the1999 edition in England.
Zimbabwe''s spinners put the shackles on the free-scoringAustralian batsmen after Ponting opted to take first strike,but when their turn to bat came, the batsmen succumbed to thepace trio of Brett Lee, Shaun Tait and Mitchell Johnson.
The beginning of the Zimbabwe innings was encouraging asBrendan Taylor (16) and Charles Coventry (14) put on 22 runsin quick time, but the slide started once the latter departedtop-edging Lee back to the bowler off an attempted pull shot.
Johnson sent back Tatendu Taibu (7) and Craig Ervine (0)with his pace and swing, while Tait breached Taylor''s defenceas he tried to play him on the leg side.
Taibu edged Johnson to the lone slip, where Watson divedto his left to bring off a low catch, while Ervine was trappedleg before by the same bowler, after a Decision Review Systemreferral by the Aussies reversed umpire Asoka de Silva''s notout decision.
It was the second time the Sri Lankan umpire was provedwrong by technology, having earlier given Australianwicketkeeper Brad Haddin not out following a leg before appealby Zimbabwe only to have the decision reversed by the DRS.
Three quick wickets in the span of 13 balls broke theback of Zimbabwe innings, and the rest only delayed theinevitable.
Graeme Cremer scored a 51-ball 37 with the help of fourfours, and Sean Williams was the second highest scorer with 28runs.
Cremer and Prosper Utseya (24) made a belated andspirited effort to bridge the gap with an 8th wicket stand of49, the highest for Zimbabwe. .