Traditionally strong Australia enter the Twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka as a tournament favourite even though in sub-continent conditions.In this format, though, their record is fair without being spectacular. They have previously played 52 T20 internationals, winning 26, losing 23, with two tied and one no result.
Of the nine other Test-playing nations in the tournament, the Aussies only have a losing record against Pakistan (4 to 5) whom they have played on 10 previous occasions; Sri Lanka (2 to 4) whom they have played six times. Their record against all-comers tends to make a mockery of their ninth-place ranking in T20 international cricket.
Australia are in Zone B along with the West Indies against whom they have a 4 to 3 winning record in their seven encounters, and Ireland, whom they have never previously played.
Dynamic opener David Warner has been the most prolific batsman in the format for the Aussies with 978 runs in 36 innings at a strike rate of 140. 71. Left-arm pacer Mitchell Johnson has been their most successful bowler with 36 wickets. However, a recent lack of form and loss of confidence have cost Johnson his place in the squad.
Australia recently lost 2-1 to Pakistan in a T20 international series in Dubai where man-of-the-series Saeed Ajmal’s mix of off-spin and doosras was their main bugbear. They can expect plenty of spin in Sri Lanka and how they respond will determine how deep in the tournament they go. The George Bailey-led Australians will look to Warner, Shane Watson and Michael Hussey to provide most of their runs, with their bowling centred more on the pace of promising Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc than spin.
It is perhaps indicative of the dearth of quality spinners in Australia that they have returned to the almost ageless Brad Hogg at 41. Hogg, who retired from international cricket at the end of the 2007-2008 season, has discovered a fresh spring in the T20 format and after a successful outing in the Big Bash is back in international cricket.
A big spinner of the ball, Hogg could be a trump card for the Aussies on helpful Sri Lankan pitches. The tournament will provide an opportunity for Cameron White to re-assert himself in the format. He was the previous T20 captain but poor form saw him lose both captaincy and a spot in the line-up. However, a solid Indian Premier League season this year has resurrected his career.
Australia’s chances in the tournament, and perhaps that of most teams, were perhaps best summed up by Bailey at the end of the just concluded series in Dubai when he said: “I think T20 is that sort of game. At everyone’s best you can beat anyone, but the key is to not let your worst game drop too far from your best game.”
Australia’s first match is a day/night encounter against Ireland at the R.Premadasa Stadium in Colombo on September 19.
Tournament predictions – Australia will do well to make the last four but failure to do so will not be a surprise.