World Cup Team Focus: Australia are favourites on home soil
Adelaide, February 4 (IANS)
Australia's rich pedigree of being the most successful team at the World Cup with four titles makes them a strong contender to reclaim cricket's showpiece trophy on home soil.
They failed to qualify for the knock-out phase in 1992, when they co-hosted the event with New Zealand for the first time, and are under pressure to win on their home pitches, starting February 14.
But, since the trans-Tasman neighbours first co-hosted the event, the situation has transformed massively for Australia.
They have built up a reputation of near invincibility at home, backed by ruthless form of formidable teams under the leadership of several strong individuals.
Their supreme technical skills and superior confidence have enthused an aura that few teams in world cricket have been successful in dismantling.
They have maintained that stronghold over the years, barring occasional hiccups, and enter the quadrennial competition as the World's No.1 One-Day International (ODI) team.
Handling the considerable pressure of playing at home in front of an expectant crowd could be the key to their chances of winning.
Darren Lehmann's side maintained its position at the top of the ODI team rankings following its undefeated performance in the tri-series against England and India recently.
While Australia's on-field form might not be much of a botheration, it is their composition away from it that has been a source of constant scrutiny.
Their build-up to this edition has been similar to their preparation in the 2011 version of the tournament in India, when then captain Ricky Ponting's leadership was under constant speculation.
The co-hosts have been distracted by reports of a rift between injured regular captain Michael Clarke, his teammates and the country's cricket governing body – Cricket Australia (CA).
Recovering from a hamstring surgery, Clarke has been given a deadline by the selectors to be fit in time for the team's second group match against Bangladesh on February 21.
But experts have questioned his place in a batting line-up already loaded with dazzling stroke-makers.
To add to the confusion, vice-captain George Bailey, who took over the captaincy reins in the tri-series due to Clarke's absence is under pressure to keep his spot in the starting XI.
The rise and rise of Steven Smith, as a worthy successor to Clarke both as a dependable middle-order match-winning batsman and skipper, have jeopardised the combined position of Bailey and Clarke in the team.
Still being the experienced campaigner, Clarke is viewed as the man to lead the team to home glory. CA hopes Clarke remains fit for the exhaustive competition, particularly after a gruelling season, since he has been regularly troubled by a dodgy back and a sore pair of hamstring.
The team at his disposal is, certainly, not short on firepower, boasting of an explosive batting line-up.
Their apparent weakness on turning pitches apart, the presence of fearless power-hitters David Warner, Aaron Finch, Shane Watson, Mitchell Marsh and Glenn Maxwell keep them well-placed to post 300 runs on a regular basis if one or two of them fire consistently.
Though unlikely to be troubled by turning pitches at home, it is their crumbling fitness that poses a realistic threat of ruining their ambitions.
Apart from Clarke, the casualty list includes recovering all-rounder Mitchell Marsh. Pacers Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Johnson are also dealing with health complaints.
Though all are expected to declare themselves fit, but it is their penchant to break down that would keep the team management on tenterhooks.
Australia have, time and again, showed they have the depth and temperament to wriggle themeselves out of seemingly tough positions but losing match-winners in the form of a Clarke or a Johnson, specifically before knock-out matches, would be a severe blow to their optimism.