The 11th edition of the ICC World Cup will begin with the battle between co-host New Zealand and former world champions, Sri Lanka on 14th February. 49 games later and on March 29, the world will see champions being crowned for the 50 overs version of the game. Australia, co-hosts of the tournament and the current world no. 1 team are the side to be reckoned in this tournament and as pundits all over the world have predicted, they are the team to defeat in order for a nation to win the world cup.
Since their shocking 2-0 loss in the test series against Pakistan at Abu Dhabi, they have bounced back in style. The Aussies hosted South Africa for a T20 and ODI series having won both of them. The resilience and gritty attitude shown by the Aussies against the Proteas was the sign of positive things for the team.
Having successfully dispatched South Africa, Australia hosted India with the vow to regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. The shocking and untimely death of Philip Hughes in November had taken the players aback. However, the loss seemed to unite the team for a common cause as they took down India in the 4-match test series. The way Australia won the first test showed how they craved for a win and the extent to which they would risk the stakes of a match. They went on to win the series 2-0.
The success hungry attitude of the team did not fade as they would clean sweep England and India at the Carlton Mid Triangular Series winning all their games and cruising to the finals. They beat England by 112 runs to become the undefeated champions in the process.
Steve Smith has transformed himself to a leader committing to take the baton when the team had fallen under any crisis. Michael Clarke’s injury paved the way for Steve Smith to lead the team and since then, he became an unstoppable force. Leading the team from the front and strong performances with the willow, Smith has established himself as a natural successor to Clarke’s position as the captain of the side. Setting the record of scoring tons in first games as a captain in both tests and ODIs, he was the leading run scorer for Aussies this summer.
In the bowling department, Mitchell Johnson continued one of his best years in cricket taking 13 wickets in 3 matches of the test series against India. Mitchell Starc took that role during the tri-series, picking up 12 wickets in 5 games.
Despite Clarke’s injury and confusion of whether he will be fit to lead his side to a record 5th world title reign, Australia have little to worry in this tournament. World player of the year Mitchell Johnson, openers Warner and Finch, all rounders Maxwell and Faulkner, pacemen Starc, Cummins and Hazlewood are on top of their game at the moment. Clarke’s injury and absence thus seem to have little to no effect on the team’s morale.
However, in order to replicate their performances of 1987, 1999, 2003 or 2007, Australia needs to address a few issues that are still considered as recurring weaknesses for them.
Firstly, as seen earlier during the season, the Aussies have a tendency of losing their top orders early. In every case, the middle order led by Steve Smith came to the rescue for the team. But world cup being the marquee event, Aussies need to address this situation. If the likes of Warner, Finch and co become steady with the bat, opposition bowlers will find it impossible to dismantle their batting line-up.
Secondly, the absence of Nathan Lyon, the spinner who took 23 wickets during the test series against India will be a concern for the team. Selectors dropped him for Xavier Doherty citing that Lyon gives away too many runs and this can be a problem for the team in ODI matches. It will be up to Xavier Doherty to prove the critics wrong and play a vital role in leading Australia to their 5th world title.
Thirdly, Shane Watson has not performed to his capabilities this summer. With the exception of a few good games, his performance has not been upto the par this season. Unless he starts performing, the top order collapse will still be a thorn in the side for the Aussies.
Lastly, Australia do have injury concerns for their top performers. Having a busy calendar this summer, all of their players have been fatigued. The management needs to ensure that their top performers do not succumb to injuries. Faulkner and Clarke both have injury concerns and losing a finisher like Faulkner can have a negative impact on the team’s performance. Besides, Australia do need their regular skipper Clarke to lead the team. The pressure that comes from being one of the hosts, the team needs a strong leader like Clarke to steer the ship towards destination.
Despite these worries, Australia have shown why they are the best side in ODIs beating the mighty Proteas, England and defending champions India on their soil this summer. Should they continue to perform so, the most successful nation in cricket history will go on to further their glory, winning their 5th world cup in the process!
Author’s prediction: Australia go on to win their 5th world cup on home soil!