Oh dear. This wasn’t in the script. Even after a three month holiday spent surfing, driving the kids to school and filming this summer’s Weet-Bix ads, the all-conquering Aussies were meant to blast Zimbabwe into cricketing oblivion. It’s only Twenty20, after all. A confection. Less important than a stretching session before a net session before a Pura Cup warm up match. Worst case was a comfortable win.
But no. Ponting’s men were still on the beach. They were still at the checkout, babe in arms, ringing up the week’s supermarketing.
Let’s not be shy about it: there is shame in losing to the sons of Zimbabwe for the first time since 1983, especially on the biggest stage the littlest form of the game has to offer. Ponting admitted as much when called the result “embarrassing”.
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This is a World Cup (at least in name) and Ponting’s men are competitive to the point of nastiness. They don’t make friends, they make opponents look incompetent. Their business is demolition. The loss will stir their competitive instinct, most likely to the detriment of future opponents. The feeling that they must have that Cup in Cricket Australia’s already overstocked trophy cabinet will rise as the tournament progresses, but to get it they’re going to have to beat better teams than Zimbabwe.
Ricky Ponting and Matthew Hayden had individual glories bestowed up them earlier in the week, when they were named ICC Player of the Year and ODI Player of the Year respectively. Were they distracted? Unlikely. Australians took out five of the seven individual awards, with four players named in both the ICC Test and ODI teams of the year, more than any other nation. It’s a fair reflection of Australia’s recent domination of the sport. They are used to the accolades.
Then there’s the question of Punter’s hairdo. Newly bushy, a few shades darker than last summer, the Aussie captain is now confronted with questions each morning about how to style it. Was there a note of self-consciousness out there? Enough to throw him off balance when cover-driving or distract him when placing an outfielder?
Not that Zimbabwe seemed to notice. Ponting and Hayden contributed 12 runs between them. Symonds (33) and Hodge (35) made it a match. Despite being 3 for 19, Australia made it to 9 for 138. Enter Brendan Taylor, the 21-year-old who clipped the winning runs from Nathan Bracken with only one ball to spare, his 60 from 45 balls the difference between the two sides.
Should it lose Friday’s match against England, Australia will be on an early flight home. England plays its first match against Bangladesh today, so there are no immediate form guides, but its players are coming off a riveting one day series against India, which they won in the final match 4-3, a successful Test series against the West Indies and a 1-0 loss to India over three Tests. If they need any further motivation, there are those memories of last summer’s humiliations in Australia.
And perhaps we can’t fully discount Zimbabwe. Ray Mali, the interim ICC president, claimed a few weeks ago that Zimbabwe can be the world’s number one team in three years time. It would be an amazing turnaround for a side suspended from Test cricket because of its incompetence at all levels. But then, as the Aussies learned last night, maybe Mali isn’t as much of a kook as everyone thought.