There is very little in international cricket that Australia hasn’t achieved. It has won the ICC Cricket World Cup an unprecedented four times, has two ICC Champions Trophy titles under its belt, and has been ranked the No. 1 team in both Test and One-Day International cricket at various stages.
The only blots in the copybook have all come in the Twenty20 format. Australia hasn’t won the ICC World Twenty20 yet; in three attempts, the best it has managed is a runner-up finish, in the West Indies in 2010. Further, Australia has never threatened the top ranking in international cricket’s newest version, and currently lies an undistinguished No. 9 in the ICC T20 rankings.
Under George Bailey, entrusted with the responsibility of raising its profile in the Twenty20 game, Australia will attempt to set the record straight when it begins its Group B campaign against Ireland in the opening match at the R Premadasa Stadium on Wednesday.
This is as tricky an opening match as any team could have imagined going into the ICC World Twenty20 2012. Ireland is no more just a dangerous side; it is a genuine contender in limited-overs cricket, and especially in Twenty20 cricket which bridges the gulf between the very good sides and the good teams to a greater extent than any other format.
Less than a fortnight back, Ireland was ranked one place ahead of Australia in the ICC T20 rankings, generating much mirth in the rest of the cricketing world and consternation in Australia. Bailey had responded then by saying that come September 19, the teams would have a chance to assess where they stood. Having talked the talk, Australia will now be under pressure to show that it can walk the walk too.
Australia’s recent Twenty20 form hasn’t been particularly encouraging. It lost a three-match series to Pakistan 1-2 in the United Arab Emirates, and was beaten by England, the defending ICC World Twenty20 champion, in a warm-up game on Monday. Australia, however, is at its most dangerous when it carries poor form into the tournament. Ahead of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007, it lost a One-Day International series in New Zealand 0-3. It then won 11 straight games to become the first team ever to record a hat-trick of ICC Cricket World Cup successes.
While most teams will bank on spin to do the trick, Australia has a potent pace attack with Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins, its two young quicks, expected to be key elements. Shane Watson lends the balance with his crafty medium-pace, to go with his explosive batting at the top of the innings alongside David Warner. It allows Bailey the luxury of choosing either an extra pacer, the additional spinner or a batting back-up, depending on the opposition and the conditions.
Group B is a seriously tight pool with West Indies, fancied by many to make a strong pitch for the title, the third contender. Australia and Ireland will know that it is imperative to begin strongly. Ireland, free-spirited yet extremely competitive, will perhaps feel the pressure a little less than Australia, though what that will translate into remains to be seen.
While much of the personnel might have changed, Australia will need no reminding that it lost its tournament-opener to Zimbabwe at the ICC World Twenty20 2007. It will also require no reminding of Ireland’s exploits in ICC events – the Irish put out Pakistan in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007, then stunned England in Bangalore in the next edition on the back of Kevin O’Brien’s century, the fastest in ICC Cricket World Cup history.
O’Brien is easily the most recognisable face of Irish cricket, but by no means is Ireland a one-man army. Several of the squad, led by William Porterfield, play professionally in England, and aren’t unaccustomed to the big stage. Steadily on the upswing, Ireland will be desperate to boost its cricketing stock further. This could turn out to be a cracker.