By Jamie Alter
Ahmedabad: Feb 20, 2011
It says something of Australia’s hegemony in the one-day game that they haven’t lost a World Cup game since May 23, 1999. That translates to 29 World Cup matches without a loss (there was one tie, which I think anyone who follows cricket will remember) and it is that awesome record that Australia will look to keep unbeaten when they take on Zimbabwe in Ahmedabad.
The last time these two sides met in a limited-overs contest, Zimbabwe ended up victors in an unforgettable encounter. But that was during the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 in 2007, and was for all practical purposes a one-off upset win. Australia are currently the No. 1 ODI side and Zimbabwe are at the bottom of the pile, with no success over Test playing opposition to speak of since they scored two emphatic wins in a home tri-series at the start of last summer.
Australia begin their tournament campaign on the back of a 6-1 drubbing of England at home, a series win clinched without their regular captain Ricky Ponting, and will go into this game confident despite losing both warm-ups. Shane Watson, on whose broad shoulders a major part of the team’s success rests, has already spoken of how he doesn’t see any pressure on this side to defend the World Cup because of the dramatic changes in personnel since 2007. There would be no better way for Australia to drive home their message than for an emphatic win over Zimbabwe, much like how India knocked over Bangladesh in the tournament opener.
For Zimbabwe – who has only won eight of 46 World Cup fixtures - it's a question of proving the doubters wrong. Debilitated by a player exodus and the instability back home, they have worked hard at restructuring their cricket system with the help of some former internationals, but they constantly find themselves fighting to avoid being relegated to Associates level. A win over Australia would go miles in proving their critics wrong, but on the face of it Zimbabwe’s chances of progressing past the first round are extremely slim. One of Australia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and New Zealand would need to really have a few bad days in order for them to make it through.
Zimbabwe’s strongest asset is their spin attack and Prosper Utseya, Ray Price and Graeme Cremer need to exploit the conditions admirably in order to push Australia; they would surely have noticed how the defending champions crumbled to Piyush Chawla and Harbhajan Singh in their warm-up in Bangalore last week. Conditions in Ahmedabad will be more conducive to spin than Bangalore was, so Zimbabwe’s spin trio can look to bowl similar lines to those that India’s spinners did, hoping to strangle the batsmen and dry up runs.
Of the squad, only Utseya, Elton Chigumbura, Chris Mpofu, Sean Williams, Tatenda Taibu and Brendan Taylir played at the last World Cup. The coach Alan Butcher has cited Cremer, Charles Coventry and Craig Ervine as players the team will depend on, and much will also be expected from the likes of Mpofu, Greg Lamb and Shingirai Masakadza.
Man to man, this is a match-up of Zimbabwe’s stifling spinners against Australia’s strong top order, which is formed around Watson, Ponting and Michael Clarke. Australia’s pace battery, spearheaded by Brett Lee and backed by Shaun Tait and Mitchell Johnson, will look to test Zimbabwe’s brittle batting line-up. If the pacers are at their lethal best, this match could be over much quicker than the scheduled close.
Australia (from): Ricky Ponting (capt), Shane Watson, Brad Haddin (wk), Michael Clarke, Callum Ferguson, David Hussey, Cameron White, Tim Paine (wk), Steven Smith, John Hastings, Mitchell Johnson, Jason Krezja, Brett Lee, Shaun Tait, Doug Bollinger.
Zimbabwe (from): Elton Chigumbura (capt), Regis Chakabva, Charles Coventry, Graeme Cremer, Craig Ervine, Terry Duffin, Gregory Lamb, Shingirai Masakadza, Christopher Mpofu, Raymond Price, Tatenda Taibu (wk), Brendan Taylor, Prosper Utseya, Sean Williams, Tinashe Panyangara,
Umpires: Asoka de Silva (Sri Lanka) and Richard Ketteborough (England).
Time: 14.30 local (09.00 GMT)
(Jamie Alter is a freelance cricket writer, having worked at ESPNcricinfo and All Sports Magazine. His first book, The History of World Cup Cricket, is out now.)
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