February 16, 2007

It's here, but what does it mean?

It was bound to come. Sooner or later it had to. For too long they have got by without it. There were glimpses of it in 2005 and yes, it had an effect but it soon righted itself. I am of course talking of an injury ravaged Australian side. Glenn McGrath suffered two separate injuries in the 2005 Ashes which caused him to miss two tests, the two that England won. But that was just one player. This is something more.

Ricky Ponting is currently out of the Chappell Hadlee Trophy in New Zealand with a sore hip and back. This is not expected to keep him out of action for very long and he should return to the side in the Caribbean with full fitness but it will no doubt hinder his preparations for the tournament.

Andrew Symonds, the big hard-hitting all rounder from Queensland, is recovering from an injury he picked up late in the Commonwealth Bank tri series. His surgery was a success but he is still likely to miss the best part of the early stages of the series.

Symonds was instrumental in Australia’s success in the 2003 World Cup. He was not a sure starter for the tournament, and many were calling for him to be dropped but he stepped up to the mark and produced an outstanding century to win his team’s first match of the tournament against Pakistan.

Australia were 4/86 at the fall of Jimmy Maher’s wicket and looked in trouble. But out walked the Andrew Symonds who, rather than bedding in and consolidating, counter attacked taking a particular liking to Shahid Afridi’s spin. From 40 balls faced against Afridi he smashed 51 runs on his way to a blistering 143* from 125 balls. This innings set the tone for his tournament as he finished with a tournament highest batting average of 163.

The fast bowling has also taken a blow, with Brett Lee injuring his ankle in training in New Zealand and admits himself that he is only 50-50 for appearing in the tournament. Lee, one of the fastest bowlers in the world, is an instrumental part of the Aussie bowling attack. With a career record of one wicket every 28.9 balls he is number three on the list of all time strike rates, the only current player above him is the Kiwi paceman Shane Bond whose career has also been dogged by injury.

Australia’s vice captain for the series in New Zealand, Michael Clarke has also missed the first match of the series with a hip problem. Again, although there are no signs that he will miss the World Cup, he is losing valuable match practice ahead of the World Cup that could have helped him to regain some form and confidence following the defeat to England just last week.

Finally, Adam Gilchrist. Gilly is a hard hitting opening batsman in limited overs cricket. He holds the Australian record for the fastest ODI century. He holds the world record for the most number of sixes in limited overs internationals. Not only that he is a world class wicket keeper, a top class motivator and a handy vice captain. The birth of this third child has meant that he will miss the first 3 weeks of the World Cup, a time when Australia will be hoping to make their mark on the tournament.

His leave of absence will bring Brad Haddin, his long term understudy into the side and the lack of Gilly’s hard hitting approach to the top of the order will be a major blow to the side.

The effects of this are already starting to show. Just today Australia were crushed by New Zealand by ten wickets in the first match of the 3 match series at Wellington after being skittled for 148. The top order burst, the safety net offered by Ricky Ponting and Clarke and the attacking talents of Symonds are not easily replaced, neither is the fire with the new ball that was obviously lacking as the Kiwi openers knocked off the runs with ease.

This does not remove from the fact that Australia have vast banks of quality players in their ranks, but much of it is inexperienced at the highest level. There is still over 3 weeks until the start of the tournament and a few of these injured players will have recovered. The sensible money will still be on Australia for the world cup: they have been world beaters for many years and have shown themselves worthy of overcoming many tough obstacles but it’s not the ideal lead up to a World Cup campaign. That much is certain.


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