Aussies down but not out

Published: Sunday, March 4, 2007, 23:53 [IST]
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Australia are going through rough patch, they are in the middle of their longest losing streak in a decade, they have surrendered their numero uno tag to Proteas and although this is not enough they are battling a mounting injury toll.

It is hard to imagine that Australia's one-day team has ever been in a worse position heading into a World Cup. Yet four years ago there was an equally gloomy scenario.

Shane Warne was sent home from South Africa in disgrace after failing a doping test, Darren Lehmann was serving a five-match ban for a racist outburst and the selectors were under fire for dumping the Waugh twins Steve and Mark.

All-rounder Shane Watson had been ruled out of the tournament with a back injury and their most reliable batsman Michael Bevan was struggling to overcome a torn groin muscle.

Australia's fast bowling stocks were also looking dangerously thin. Glenn McGrath was recovering from a back problem, Jason Gillespie had an elbow complaint and Andy Bichel was nursing a sore shoulder.

From all that turmoil, Australia won the World Cup in a virtual canter, becoming the first team to go through the tournament undefeated and retain the title they won four years earlier.

Less than a month ago, Australia's buildup to the 2007 World Cup could not have been any better. They had won the mini-World Cup, the ICC Champions Trophy, in India in November and completed their first Ashes series whitewash in 86 years amid the hype of farewelling Shane Warne, McGrath, Justin Langer and Damien Martyn

They won the first six matches of their home tri-series with England and New Zealand, when all of a sudden things went awry.

The Australians lost three matches in a row to England, including the two tri-series finals, after key all-rounder Andrew Symonds tore a bicep tendon in his shoulder that required surgery.

Even so, those results appeared to be little more than a hiccup, until their ill-fated tour of New Zealand.

Ricky Ponting pulled out because of a back complaint and Adam Gilchrist was released because his wife was expecting a baby. That proved to be the least of their problems.

Fast bowler Brett Lee seriously damaged the ligaments in his left ankle and was only a 50-50 proposition of making the World Cup while Michael Clarke was sent home without playing a match because of a hip problem.

Then opener Matthew Hayden broke the big toe of his right foot in the last match after compiling 181 not out, the highest one-day score by an Australian.

The stand-in captain Mike Hussey also made a hundred in the series and Brad Hodge cemented his place with an unbeaten 97 to remaind everyone that Australia still has plenty of batting depth, yet they still lost the series 3-0 in humiliating circumstances.

They suffered their first 10-wicket loss in almost 650 one-dayers when they were bowled out for 148 in the first match then lost the remaining two matches after twice failing to defend totals in excess of 335.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Australians have dismissed those results as incidental, insisting they are focusing only on the World Cup.

Their unwavering self-belief, dazzling array of talent and ability to raise their game when it really matters ensures they remain the team to beat and if history is any guide, no one will be too surprised if they win it again.

Players to watch: Mike Hussey, Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Stuart Clark, Nathan Bracken

Squad: Ricky Ponting (Capt), Nathan Bracken, Michael Clarke, Adam Gilchrist (wk), Brad Haddin (Standby wk), Matthew Hayden, Brad Hodge, Brad Hogg, Mike Hussey, Mitchell Johnson, Stuart Clark, Glenn McGrath, Andrew Symonds, Shaun Tait and Shane Watson.

Australia Fact file:

World Cup record: 1975 - runners-up; 1979 - first round; 1983 - first round; 1987 - champions; 1992 first round; 1996 - runners-up; 1999 - champions; 2003 - champions

Overall playing record: Played: 648, Won: 395, Lost: 227, Tied: 8, No result: 18

Highest innings total: 434-4 v South Africa, Johannesburg, 2006

Lowest innings total: 70 v England, Edgbaston, 1977; 70 v New Zealand, Adelaide, 1986;

Highest individual score: Matthew Hayden (181*) v New Zealand, C'wealth Bank Series 2007

Leading run-scorer: Ricky Ponting (9,856)

Best bowling: Glenn McGrath (7 for 15) v Namibia, 2003

Leading wicket-taker: Glenn McGrath (355)

Highest partnership: Ricky Ponting&Andrew Symonds (233, 4th wkt) v Sri Lanka, Sydney, 2006

Most catches (fieldsman): Allan Border (127)

Most dismissals (wk): Adam Gilchrist (422)

ThatsCricket (with inputs from Agencies)

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