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21 April 2024

Pool A: Australia seek record fifth World Cup triumph

David Warner, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Michael Clarke of Australia pose during the Australian 2015 Cricket World Cup squad announcement at Museum of Contemporary Art on January 11, 2015 in Sydney, Australia. (Getty)


Australia are peaking at the right time for a crack at their fifth World Cup triumph and will go into next month's tournament at home on top of the rankings.

Under the attacking coaching of Darren Lehmann, the Australians have registered some impressive results and have only lost one of their last 11 ODIs.

Australia accounted for the third-ranked South Africans 4-1 in a series at home last November and have begun their current tri-series with wins over England and India.

Lehmann and fellow selectors have assembled a strong playing group around a core of key players - David Warner, Steve Smith, Mitchell Johnson and possibly skipper Michael Clarke, fitness issues depending.

Clarke has been troubled by hamstring and back problems throughout the southern summer and selectors have imposed a deadline of February 21 on the star batsman to add some certainty to their team deliberations.

Given Smith's phenomenal form with the bat this season - three ODI centuries since October - there are those who say Australia may not even miss Clarke's leadership and batting.

Australia's biggest challenge will be how the team handles the external pressures as the host nation that will decide its winning chances.

The Australians didn't cope in 1992 when they last hosted the sport's showpiece and they missed out on the semi-finals.

"How they deal with that pressure is going to be as important because they've got the players and the skill sets to be able to win this World Cup, it's just how they manage the pressure around being the home team," Indian batting great Rahul Dravid argued.

The home team have traditional rivals England first up on February 14 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the venue for the March 29 final.

The Australians also have Sri Lanka, New Zealand Bangladesh and associate teams Afghanistan and Scotland in their pool and will have home advantage for all but their pool game with the Black Caps in Auckland on February 28.

Much will depend on Australia's ability to get quick runs at the top of the innings and they have the right ammunition with adventurous opening pair of Aaron Finch and Warner.

Warner has three ODI centuries, including a recent 127 off 115 balls against England in the tri-series, while Finch has five tons, four of them last year.

Throw in Smith, the experienced Shane Watson, possibly George Bailey depending on Clarke's availability, batting all-rounders Glenn Maxwell, James Faulkner and Mitchell Marsh and Australia have plenty of runs in their ranks.

Mitchell Johnson, the ICC Cricketer of 2014, leads the attack with fellow left-armer Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins offering pace and venom.

While the Australians are well stocked with fast bowlers, there is some concern over the selection of Xavier Doherty as the specialist attacking spinner.   

The Australians relish playing aggressive cricket under Lehmann and Warner has already been told by Cricket Australia to "stop looking for trouble" after his recent clash with Indian batsman Rohit Sharma.

The explosive opener was fined half his one-day match fee by the ICC for confronting Sharma and demanding he "speak English" during Australia's four-wicket win in Melbourne this month.

New Zealand cricket great Martin Crowe called  Warner's behaviour "thuggish" and slammed him as being the most juvenile cricketer he had ever seen.

But it's like water off a duck's back for coach Lehmann, who said: "David's an aggressive character and we support that. It's just making sure he does the right thing on the ground. We'll work with him with that."

Factfile on Australia:

: Michael Clarke (capt), George Bailey, Pat Cummins, Xavier Doherty, James Faulkner, Aaron Finch, Brad Haddin, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, David Warner, Shane Watson.
Coach: Darren Lehmann

Fixtures - Pool A:  

Feb 14: England, Melbourne
Feb 21: Bangladesh, Brisbane
Feb 28: New Zealand, Auckland
March 4: Afghanistan, Perth
March 8: Sri Lanka, Sydney
March 14: Scotland, Hobart

World Cup record:

1975: Runners-up
1979: Pool stage
1983: Pool stage
1987: Champions
1992: Pool stage
1996: Runners-up
1999: Champions
2003: Champions
2007: Champions
2011: Quarter-finals

Key player:

Steve Smith - In the form of his life with three ODI centuries since October and coming off four tons in the Test series against India. Fidgety, quirky batsman who likes to get on with it and shapes as a match-winner. Wonderful catcher in the slips cordon and throw in some leg-spin and he will be a key man for Australia.