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Only injuries can stop Australia

Australia has a great chance of successfully defending its World Cup crown if Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath are fully fit.

india Updated: Jan 31, 2003 23:59 IST

Australia has a great chance of successfully defending its World Cup crown if Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath are fully fit. However, if either or both these players are unable to perform at full throttle from the Super Six stage onwards, then there's a good chance the 1979 West Indies team will remain the only side to win back-to-back World Cups.

Strengths

A strong aggressive batting line-up headed by Adam Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting and Matthew Hayden. A fast start allows the rest of the line-up to attack throughout the 50 overs and this aggressive approach is also a distinct advantage in a run chase.

The experience and skill of McGrath and Warne means they can attack and take wickets in clusters or pin the batsmen down and choke off runs. They supply a solid foundation for Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee to mount a lethal attack giving Australia the potential to demolish even a strong batting line-up.

An athletic and skilful fielding side that produce a high percentage of direct hits backs this well-balanced attack.

Weaknesses

The main injury worries are two top-class bowlers. If the injured bowlers struggle to recover their best form then even more pressure will be applied to the rest of the bowling. The non-selection of Stuart MacGill as cover for Warne was a blunder.

Australia will need more heroics from their two champion bowlers to successfully defend their World Cup crown so any debilitating injuries to Warne and McGrath would be devastating.

Men to watch

Can Ponting hold his nerve as captain in the tough section of the tournament? One side effect of Australia's recent dominance is they have rarely been fully tested. Consequently, Ponting could have the blowtorch applied to his belly in a death or glory struggle.

The fitness of Warne, McGrath and Gillespie is critical. The back-up players are useful cricketers but in a crucial match would the opposition prefer to face Andrew Bichel and Brad Hogg rather than McGrath and Warne? The answer must be an emphatic, "Yes."

The tactic of scoring runs quickly in the first 15 overs may not be as critical in this World Cup as having wickets in hand for a final onslaught. Gilchrist may be pushed down the order to reflect this need.

Opposition dangers

New Zealand's supremacy over Australia in last season's VB series was due in part to Stephen Fleming's captaincy. He isn't over-awed by the powerful Australian line-up and attacks them at every opportunity. Of the teams who might upset Australia, I rate New Zealand the side most likely.

Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Brian Lara are all dangerous opponents because they attack bowlers of the calibre of McGrath and Warne. A century at a high strike rate is difficult to combat in a limited overs contest, because there's so little time to recover once you've experienced a setback.

Jacques Kallis, Chris Cairns and Shaun Pollock are top-class all-rounders and can beat you either with bat or ball or both.

If the two South Africans fire together in a sudden-death contest they could reverse the recent trend of Australia winning the important contests between these teams.

Intangibles

Should Australia play in Zimbabwe?

Governments and politicians, not cricket authorities or players should be made to take this decision.

A no-show wouldn't hurt Australia's prospects because of the ludicrous system where points from the preliminary round are only carried through to the Super Six stage when they are gained against teams that also progress. (TCM)

First Published: Jan 31, 2003 23:53 IST