A champion is loved and loathed alike. Some are fascinated by the spirit of being a winner and some detest the quest for victory at all costs. It's not easy being the champions when you know that for every loyal admirer there will always be another praying for its fall from the perch. And Australia's cricket team has seen both.
With the ODI World Cup around the corner, there are talks that this is going to be the most open World Cup in nearly a decade. This certainly is a deviation from the Aussie heydays of 2003 and 2007 when they were heads and shoulders above other cricket-playing nations. If McGrath and co ran through batting orders then Ponting, Hayden, Glichrist caused havoc among bowlers. This is not the case now as McGrath, Gilchrist and Hayden have all hung their boots and Ponting is no longer the force he once used to be. The aura has certainly diminished.
But never discount the Aussies as they have made it amply clear in thrashing the Poms in the ODI series after being at the receiving end of the Ashes debacle. Australia are still a very good side and are right up their with South Africa, India and England. They are still a very strong contender for their fourth successive World Cup title.
Brett Lee, despite all his injuries and time out of the cricket field is still a lethal weapon who can trouble the best batsmen in the world and his experience in India should stand him in good stead. Shaun Tait, though as fast or probably more than Lee can cause havoc and his stint with the Rajasthan Royals under Shane Warne will ensure that he knows what to do and what not to.
But the bowler to watch-out will be Doug Bollinger who has carved a niche for himself after his spectacular show in the IPL with the Chennai Super Kings. He has got the pace and more importantly the necessary experience to succeed in India. Australia would do well to have him in the playing XI ahead of Mitchell Johnson who is bound to struggle in the sub-continent.
Though the spin-department seems to be the weak-link in the Australian squad, but if these three can bowl to their potential then Nathan Hauritz will certainly appear to be a better bowler than the one who was sent on a leather hunt in his last trip to India.
But the person who can take Australia to final glory has to be Shane Watson. Time and again he has proved to be the best Australian player in the current line-up to succeed in the sub-continent. He was instrumental in Rajasthan Royal's success and there is no reason as to why he can't replicate the success with a better and more experienced side.
At the top of the order he can be steady and still use the long handle to maximum benefit. As a bowler he is a master exponent of reverse-swing which is a potent weapon on the flat-tracks of the sub-continent. As to how he fares will determine how far the Aussies will go.
And Cameron White will certainly be the dark horse in the Australian side. If he gets into his groove then the short-boundaries in the sub-continent will appear even shorter. Couple that with another big-hitter in David Hussey and the combination looks scary. But for them to succeed the impetus has to come from the likes of Ponting and Clarke.
Clarke and Ponting are not in the best of forms but with the amount of experience that they have it is only a matter of time before they start firing again unless of course they are too bothered about their futures in the Australian cricket set-up. If Ponting fails and so does the team, then it can spell the end of his glorious career as a leader and a player. If he manages to keep his mind uncluttered then Australia as has been for long will remain the team to beat.
Australia, at least on paper is a very strong team. Though it is crest-fallen from the luminous days of 2003 and 2007 it can still give the other teams a run for their money. In terms of fielding they are still the best. Though their bowling and batting doesn't sound imposing but nevertheless it still is at par with the best.
In my book they remain good enough to qualify for the semis and how they fare from thereon will indicate how far have they fallen from their invincible days.
Australia Squad: Shane Watson, Brad Haddin (wk), Ricky Ponting (capt), Michael Clarke, Michael Hussey, David Hussey, Cameron White, Tim Paine (wk), Steven Smith, John Hastings, Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Hauritz, Brett Lee, Shaun Tait, Doug Bollinger.
Aussie Trump Cards: Shane Watson, Doug Bollinger, Cameron White, Ricky Ponting
First Choice playing XI: Shane Watson, Brad Haddin (wk), Ricky Ponting (capt), Michael Clarke, Michael Hussey, David Hussey, Cameron White, Nathan Hauritz, Brett Lee, Shaun Tait, Doug Bollinger