Melbourne: Captain Ricky Ponting on Wednesday said that Australia could not afford another tardy start as it chases a record third World Cup crown.
Steve Waugh's Australians came back from the brink in the 1999 tournament in England, losing two of its first three games before being unbeaten in its last seven. It humiliated Pakistan by eight wickets in the final at Lord's. This time, Australia's first two matches are against group rivals Pakistan and India on February 11 and 15. Lose them both and a berth in the Super Sixes stage would be all but out of reach before the tournament hotted up.
"Hopefully, we won't get off to that sort of start again," Ponting said on Wednesday. "We had our backs to the wall for most of the last World Cup. Saying that, probably our two biggest games are our first two so we've got to be on the ball right from ball one, to make sure we're there and we're ready to play." Australia leaves for South Africa on Thursday and plays two warm-up matches against provincial sides before the tournament. Ponting also needs to guard against his team being distracted by the debate about whether it should play in strife-torn Zimbabwe on February 24. No team has won three World Cups and only the West Indies in 1975 and 1979 has won the tournament twice in succession.
"One thing we've spoken about is that we're not going there to defend it, we're going there to win it," Ponting said. "It's a big tournament, there's going to be pressure on all the players and probably more pressure on me. But I think I'll be able to handle it and I'm sure the rest of the guys will be able to as well." With an attack including Brett Lee in the best Limited Overs form of his career, along with Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Andy Bichel, Australia is better placed than any other team to exploit the one bouncer per over rule.
"If that ball is bowled properly, and you bowl it to the right batsman, it can be a very effective dot ball," Ponting said. "I think we've probably noticed in the last 6 to 12 months that One-day scores around the world are generally a bit lower and I think that's one of the reasons why, especially for the tail-end batsman coming in. "Every side has got bowlers who are able to bowl bouncers, and our guys tend to like to bowl a few more than others."