Aussies start out slow at Cricket World Cup

NORMAN DA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:52 PM ET

The aura that encompassed those men in those traditional baggy green caps appears to be on the wane.

There was a time when stadiums around the world would be bursting at the seams to accommodate fans wanting to watch the all-conquering Australians. But not anymore.

A shock awaited skipper Ricky Ponting and his men as they opened the defence of the World Cup yesterday. They were greeted by a near-silent response as there were more fans dressed as empty seats in the Sardar Patel 55,000-capacity stadium in Ahmedabad.

Australia, though, kept their focus on the job at hand as it pulled out a 91-run win over Zimbabwe in front of less than 10,000 spectators to extend its unbeaten run in the competition to 30, a feat that began in England in 1999.

The world champions posted 262 for six and Zimbabwe was bundled out for 171 in 46.2 overs in this Group A encounter.

That Australia would win was a given, but the fact that it posted less than 300 against this opposition will raise some questions. The ever-dependable Shane Watson led the way with 79 and middle-order bat Michael Clarke weighed in with an unbeaten 58.

Watson, who was named man of the match, defended Australia’s slow start when pressed for an answer at a press conference.

“It took a while to get going. But it’s nice to get used to different conditions and find a way ... and it was a good time to get a bit of practice in,” said Watson, who had a six and eight fours in his 92-minute stay at the crease.

The Aussies made slow progress against Zimbabwe’s spinners Ray Price (one for 43), Graeme Cremer (one for 41) and Prosper Utseya (one for 43) all off their 10 overs.

These three put the shackles on the upper-order Aussie batting and this is worrisome to the world champion when it comes up against better-quality spinners from Sri Lanka, Pakistan and New Zealand in the remaining group matches.

The Aussies have yet to find a top-flight spinner since Shane Warne retired a couple of years ago. They have used at least nine different spinners since Warne departed and were hoping that Nathan Hauritz would be the man to fill the legend’s boots.

But an injury to Hauritz opened the door for Jason Krejza and he did an admirable job with two wickets for 28 runs yesterday. But he is no Warne and nor are Steve Smith and David Hussey, who both have been drafted into action.

With a huge hole in the spin department, the Aussies will depend largely on their pace attack that fired on all cylinders yesterday on a wicket that was deemed as slow.

Left-hander Mitchell Johnson was the pick of the pacers with four for 19 with Brett Lee (one for 34) and Shaun Tait taking two for 34. Johnson’s fastest ball touched at 146.4 k.m.h.

With this win under its belt, Australia now travels to Nagpur to renew its Trans-Tasman rivalry against New Zealand on Friday and this one should be a dandy.

Zimbabwe next stop is also Nagpur where it faces Canada next Monday. Canada also lost its first match, going down to Sri Lanka by 210 runs on Sunday.

Canada’s paceman Henry Osinde, who limped off the field after bowling 2.1 overs, is expected to be fit for this important encounter.


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