“It’s an oxymoron to say there’s a weak Australian side,” said New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming this week. “There’s no such thing.”
A few days and a 3-0 whitewash in the Chappell-Hadlee ODI Series later, it seems Fleming was wrong. And that is great news for the forthcoming World Cup and for cricket in general. You might not like it, but you cannot deny it.
Of course, you cannot become a bad side overnight – but you can become a complacent one. From their coach down, Australia have grown too arrogant, too fat following their 5-0 Ashes feast. They’ve lost their hunger and now they’re paying for it. How John Buchanan must wish he could retract his assertion that neither England nor New Zealand could give his side a decent game. Between them, they’ve since given Australia five on the bounce. As a result, Australia have been knocked off their perch at the top of the one-day rankings for the first time since their inauguration in October 2002. On the eve of the World Cup, South Africa are now the number one side.
All of a sudden, the aura of Australian invincibility has been exploded and the timing could hardly be better for any fan that wants to see competitive cricket. Be honest, the recent Ashes series was dull – especially compared to its predecessor. The World Cup, which starts in less than a month’s time on March 13, now looks more open than any tournament since 1992.
There are arguably eight teams that can win it. And the rapidly escalating Australian injury crisis means that the other seven will fancy their chances. While Michael Clarke and the much-missed Ricky Ponting will be fit, Andrew Symonds and Brett Lee probably won’t be – at least not 100%. Then there’s Matthew Hayden’s broken toe and Adam Gilchrist’s paternity leave. And that is before we examine the less-than-sparkling recent bowling figures of Glenn McGrath, Shane Watson and Shaun Tait.
The bloated format of the tournament gives them time to nurse their injuries and play themselves back into form. And then all this will look like the perfect execution of Buchanan’s mind-boggling mind games. Or it could all go horribly wrong and throw the coach’s swansong off-key. (Won’t Shane Warne love that!) Either way, at least there’s a reason for cricket fans around the globe to watch it now. (Won’t the ICC love that!)