WC countdown: Ignore Aussies at your peril

BIG GUN: Australian opener David Warner will be keen to make up for the lost time. AFP

Ahead of a big event, one expects the Australians to play mind games with their opponents. Blessed with teams replete with match-winners, the Aussies hunted down five World Cup titles with supreme confidence combined with their typical arrogance. They were masters at playing ugly to win and had no qualms in being proud of it.

But in England this time, it appears the cricketing world could be in for a different Australia. Justin Langer’s side offers a picture of a mellowed-down version of the teams in the past.

For once, Australia’s focus is solely on improving their cricket. They aren’t keen on making brash statements to demoralise their rivals.

The ball-tampering scandal in South Africa resulted in drastic changes; not just in the way Australia played the game but also in how they approached it. Langer’s response to the feared hostile reception from the Barmy Army at the World Cup reveals how the Aussies aren’t interested in any off-field battles.

“We can’t control the crowd. Our players are just human beings. We can’t control the crowd or social media. But we are going to put an arm around our players and make sure they are doing okay when the going gets tough,” Langer had said in a recent interview.

The ball-tampering scandal was a headache that blew into a full migraine for the Aussies. Since 2018, after losing their batting mainstays David Warner and Steve Smith and having welcomed a host of changes in the management, Australia lost four straight ODI series. While their ranking plummeted to fifth, the defending champions didn’t seem like a team capable of retaining the crown as they struggled to find the right mix of players.

But timing is everything in cricket. With their tough days behind, the Aussies have plotted a slow yet encouraging comeback this year. They beat India 3-2 in India and routed Pakistan 5-0 in UAE. They have risen at the right time and that makes them one of the title contenders.

It’s obvious that the Aaron Finch-led Australia’s fortunes rest on the Smith-Warner duo. They are the kind of players who will relish the challenge and not get intimated by it.

They aren’t short of big-match temperament and for having missed the action for over a year, they will be eager to make a statement. Warner, in the IPL, has already shown that he is hungry for success. Mitchell Starc and Glenn Maxwell also must deliver to do justice to their reputation of being fearsome players.

The dominance of England and India might have pushed Australia out of the limelight in recent times. But in World Cups, teams can ignore Australia only at their peril.

Squad: Aaron Finch (squad), David Warner, Steve Smith, Alex Carey, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Pat Cummins, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Kane Richardson, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, Adam Zampa, Jhye Richardson and Jason Beherendorff. 

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