Friday, February 16, 2007

Australia : Can they three-peat in World Cup 2007?

The embarrassing loss to New Zealand by Australia in the 1st ODI of the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy at Wellington poses more questions than answers as they prepare defending the World Championship title in Caribbean islands. It is not going to be an easy task as it was presumed to be just three weeks back. Three consecutive losses to England in CB series and a 10 wicket loss in a ODI for the first time in their 36 years history coupled with injuries to key players like Andrew Symonds, Brett Lee and Michael Clarke puts their hopes of making it a three-peat of World Cup victories in jeopardy. Added to that the woeful form of their main strike batsman Adam Gilchrist doesn’t augur well for Australia as the kick-off date for the ICC World Cup becomes closer and closer.

Just to compund the problems that Australia has in front of them, all the other contenders seem to be peaking at the right time. England after being written off totally came back stronger and won the CB finals by 2-0. New Zealand inflicted a defeat that Australia would remember for a very long time to come. South Africa with their convincing series victories against India and Pakistan after winning the greatest One Day Game ever against Australia last year, now threatens the no.1 position that Australia holds in ICC World rankings in ODI cricket. If Australia fails to win the remaining two matches against their Trans-Tasman rivals, for the first time the World Champions of Cricket will be relegated to a position that they are not accustomed to in ICC ODI rankings.

History too does not bode well for a third world cup title in a row for Australia. No team has ever won the World Cup three times in a row. When West Indies came close to record a hat-trick of World Cup Victories, Kapil’s Devils upset the West Indian juggernaut in a low scoring 1983 World Cup final. Whether Australia, still being the favorite to defend the title they won in 2003, can deliver the goods in the absence of their star players who either retired from International Cricket or nursing injuries or more importantly passing through a tremendous slump in their form remains to be seen. Already there are ominous signs from South Africa, England, New Zealand and Sri Lanka that on any given day they can give nerve-shattering and bone-chilling scares to the Australian team.

Aussie Coach Buchanan must be cursing himself for saying that his team was not being tested fully after they whitewashed England by 5-0 in Ashes and won their first seven games of the CB Series with utmost ease. It might have triggered both England and New Zealand teams to the extent that they are the ones who are in a position now to utter those words. Australia’s performance in their last three matches had been anything but convincing and at times pathetic too with their batting struggling, bowling faltering and fielding being sloppy. For the first time since 2003 Australia lost three ODIs in a row. At that time those games were lost when the ODI series was not live any more as Australia had won it by winning the first 4 matches of their 7-match ODI series against West Indies.

If excessive cricket and tough training has finally taken its toll which resulted in injuries to the key players and lack of motivation for some of the top order batsmen, then the second line of players are not fitting into the shoes of the rested players. But Ricky Ponting has a habit of coming back strong when chips are down, he proved it by leading his team to a 5-0 Ashes Test Series win after his leadership and batting skills were questioned relentlessly by Media and critics when they lost to England in 2005 by a narrow margin of 2-1. Similarly though he did not lead his side in two of the last four losses that Australia suffered, he will be eager to prove his critics wrong and crush the opposition in ICC World Cup 2007. When he decides that way nothing can stop him. A break from the grueling ODI outings like he is having now may bring him to right perspective and refuel his energy levels. Whatever may be the outcome, the coming World Cup games involving Australia promises to be very interesting, entertaining and closer rather than the one horse race that cricketing world was afraid off. Who knows, we might have a new and different winner this time.

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