Potchefstroom: Reigning champion Australia may be 2,000/1 on with one British bookmaker to win Thursday's World Cup match against The Netherlands, however the fixture could yet pose a few problems for Ricky Ponting's men. Thrash the European minnows and no-one will blink an eye. But if the Dutch somehow manage to make even a modest game of it then the previously all-conquering Group 'A' pacesetters will not seem quite so impregnable.
For Australia coach John Buchanan, however, the game is an ideal opportunity to rest star players on the way to what looks like, after crushing victories against Pakistan and India, another march to the final. Pacemen Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie as well as wicket-keeper-batsman Adam Gilchrist are the three players Buchanan identified as those due a break. Andy Bichel and Ian Harvey would replace the two quicks with part-time keeper Jimmy Maher taking over Gilchrist's gloves. Australia's next game is against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo on February 27 and Buchanan said, "In our thinking I would like to go to Zimbabwe with 14 players all of whom have had some cricket under their belts."
More of a worry for Australia than its unheralded opponents is the Potchefstroom weather, with the North West Stadium subjected to torrential downpours in recent days. The Australian nightmare scenario is that the game starts on a wet outfield, one of their players then injures himself on a slippery surface, before rain ensures the match is a no-result. An injury would be a real problem for Australia as it is already down to 14 players following Shane Warne's return home following a positive drugs test last week and remains uncertain if it will be allowed to replace the leg spinner.
But negative thinking does not a world-beating team make. Buchanan can even see some positives emerging from a match against The Netherlands, who qualified for its second World Cup by winning the International Cricket Council (ICC) Trophy, a tournament contested by cricket's leading lesser nations, in Toronto in 2001. "Hopefully, Holland will play out of its skins and really test us in batting, bowling and fielding," Buchanan said. The Netherlands, well-led by former Somerset fast bowler Roland Lefebvre, has performed well in the field during its opening two defeats by India and England. But despite the international experience it gained against the big boys during September's Champions Trophy event in Sri Lanka, its batting has continued to let it down.
Totals of 136 and 142, against India and England respectively, are not enough at this level. But just being here, after a previous World Cup appearance in 1996 where it failed to win a game, is enough for Lefebvre's enthusiastic amateurs. "We will enjoy every game whatever the outcome," he said. However, at least against England, The Netherlands' innings lasted the distance, much to Lefebvre's delight. "We managed to bat out 50 overs and with the amount of proper One-day Internationals we play that is quite something." If it does the same against Australia it will be quite miraculous.