Australia’s smooth sailing against South Africa in the T20 International series has them in hot form ahead of the World Cup
IT’S the final slot of the puzzle — the piece of cricket silverware which has eluded Australia.
And it should be no surprise the ICC World Twenty20 is nowhere to be seen in the bulging trophy cabinet at Cricket Australia’s Melbourne HQ.
Australia was years behind the rest of the world in embracing the sawn-off 20-over game.
It long believed it was a muck-around game, refused to take it seriously and thought it was a fly-by-night fad.
For too long, Australian selectors picked 20-over teams which were only marginally modified versions of the sides they picked in other formats.
MEET THE MINNOWS AT THE ICC WORLD TWENTY20
Former Aussie opener Phil Jaques looks back at Australia and South Africa’s final T20 match
Meanwhile, the Indian Premier League was getting bigger and richer and just about every nation was producing specialist T20 players with their funky switch-hits and ramp shots.
But as the World T20 prepares to blast off with hosts Bangladesh taking on Afghanistan in the first game in Dhaka on Sunday night, Australia has finally started to get serious.
It has started picking teams custom-made for T20 cricket, even if they contain golden oldies like Brad Hogg (43), Brad Hodge (39) along with promising youngsters like leggie James Muirhead (20) and all-rounder James Faulkner (23).
Watch every game of the ICC World Twenty20 LIVE and in HD on Fox Sports
And innovative coach Darren Lehmann has called on past Australian stars like Shane Warne and Andrew Symonds to help the T20 squad with skills and 20-over tactical advice.
Footy seasons are in full swing in Australia but sports lovers here will take more than a passing interest in the World T20 after the exciting pyrotechnics of the summer’s Big Bash competition.
Mind you, the ripple if Australia wins will be nothing compared to the tsunami of celebrations if one of the teams from the subcontinent go all the way. If hosts Bangladesh do the impossible and win the trophy, government officials will likely declare a public holiday. Or an entire year of them.
With thanks to some spectacular batting from Aaron Finch and Shane Watson, Australia’s T20 side run out six wicket winners over South Africa in the third match of the series
The World T20 is really a blip on the cricket landscape, especially with all the privatised T20 leagues around the world, but don’t tell them that in the subcontinent.
Australia has only made the final once in four previous World T20 tournaments. But, even with fast bowler Mitchell Johnson under an injury cloud, they have probably never been better placed, as they head into their opening clash against Pakistan in Dhaka next Sunday night.
BEN DORRIES, who will be in Bangladesh covering the World T20, looks at what to expect from Australia.
Spin used to be a dirty word in T20 cricket, only used sporadically and mainly just to dart in the ball when fast bowlers had failed to slow the run-blasting. But spinners are now attacking weapons in T20 cricket and they will be key aces on the turning pitches in Bangladesh. Australia has young leggie James Muirhead, veteran Brad Hogg and IPL million-dollar man Glenn Maxwell. Batsmen from the subcontinent play Hogg’s quirky variations better than most, so he may be kept on ice for other nations with Muirhead preferred against Indian and Pakistan batsmen.
THE GOLDEN OLDIES
T20 cricket was meant to be a game for young, athletic types but Hogg, Hodge and Brad Haddin (age 36) have bucked the trend. The Aussies have plenty of other 30-plus players including captain George Bailey (31) and all-rounders Shane Watson (32), Cameron White (30) Dan Christian (30). They have picked experience over youth and will be looking to win this tournament between the ears. You can’t afford too many passengers in a squad of 15 so Australia’s old guard must fire.
THE THREE W’S
Dave Warner, Shane Watson and Cameron White form an explosive batting combo and the Aussies need at least two of these three to have a bumper tournament. It has always looked as though Warner and Watson were never the closest of teammates so it will be fascinating to watch them at work. White looks to be finally bridging the gap between potential and performance. He could be in and out of the starting team and knows this could be one of his last chances to shine on the international stage.
Ashes and South African tour hero Mitchell Johnson has been under an injury cloud with an infected toe. If Johnson is fit to play, he will have to find a balance between aggression and containment. The dry and dusty spinning pitches of Bangladesh will be like chalk and cheese compared to the fast pitches he has been bowling on for the last five months. The moustache may not be as menacing on pitches which probably won’t bounce above waist high.
BEN DORRIES tips the top four teams.
1. SRI LANKA: Always hard to toss in this format and playing in conditions which suit. Come into the tournament in sparkling T20 form having lost just one of their past seven T20 games. Also made the final of the recent Asia Cup (50 overs). Have the world’s best T20 quick in Lasith Malinga, a clever brigade of spinners and experienced batsmen such as Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan. The world’s No. 1 ranked T20 side.
2. INDIA: What’s not to like about a T20 side which has MS Dhoni, Virat Kholi, Shikhar Darwan and Yuvraj Singh? The Indians have played more 20-over cricket than anyone else and will love these slow pitches. Would have tipped them to win but there is a question mark over their bowling stocks — they look to be weaker in spin than you would expect.
3. NEW ZEALAND: Could be the big surprise packets of the tournament, provided they can quickly adjust to conditions. Have been in ominous limited overs form, recently putting 2012 World T20 champions the West Indies to the sword. Any side with Corey Anderson (who slaughtered the fastest ODI century in history), Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor will be a serious T20 threat.
4. AUSTRALIA: Should be there when the whips are cracking. But have played on hard, fast, bouncy pitches for the last five months and this might be too much of an adjustment, against rival sides that have played a lot more T20 cricket in recent times.
West Indies. Recent form hasn’t been too flash but they the defending champions and can beat anyone on their day. South Africa is also far from hopeless.
Pakistan. Normally a contender in short-form cricket but look a rabble after a slew of changes including the removal of Aussie coach Dav Whatmore. England must also be written off after being on the road for an eternity and having injury and form woes.
MAKING UP THE NUMBERS
Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Ireland, Afghanistan, Netherlands, Nepal, UAE, Hong Kong. T20 cricket is probably the best vehicle to give the minnows a go but none of these sides will make an impact. The best of them, home side Bangladesh, has been terrible lately. Afghanistan created a boilover when they beat the Australian under-19 team but lightning won’t strike twice.
BETTING ODDS (courtesy Tattsbet)
Sri Lanka $6
South Africa $7
West Indies $8
New Zealand $9
United Arab Emirates $5001
Hong Kong $5001
AUSTRALIA’S SCHEDULE + FOX SPORTS TV COVERAGE
Sunday 23 Mar — Australia v Pakistan Live 8pm (7pm Qld time) FOX SPORTS 2HD 2
Friday 28 Mar — Australia v West Indies Live 8pm (7pm Qld time) FOX SPORTS 3HD 3
Sunday 30 Mar — Australia v India Live 11.55pm (10.55pm Qld time) FOX SPORTS 3HD 3
Tuesday 1 Apr — Australia v Qualifier Live 8.30pm (7.30pm Qld time) FOX SPORTS 3HD 3
Thursday 3 Apr — 1st Semi Final live 11.30pm (10.30pm Qld time) FOX SPORTS 3HD 3
Friday 4 Apr — 2nd Semi Final LIVE 11.30pm (10.30pm Qld time) FOX SPORTS 3HD 3
Sunday 6 April — ICC WT20 Final LIVE 10.30pm FOX SPORTS 2HD 2