Ricky Ponting, the Australian captain, has not lost a World Cup match as captain. His team came out against Zimbabwe in their opening Group A match of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 at Ahmedabad yesterday to extend their impressive record.
And extend they did with their battery of pace bowlers a little too hot to handle for the Zimbabwe batsmen after Australia had set them a target of 263 to win. Charles Coventry, the Zimbabwe opener, tried to force the pace off Brett Lee and Shaun Tait and even hit Lee for an audacious six but couldn’t last long. Lee banged in one short and Coventry’s unconvincing pull shot went no further than silly mid-off where Lee himself took the catch.
Brendan Taylor and Tatenda Taibu hung around for five overs but without adding much to the total. Taibu edged to Shane Watson at slip off Mitchell Johnson and this started a procession of wickets as Zimbabwe slid from 40/1 to 44/4. Taylor couldn’t pick a faster one from Tait as the ball brushed his pads before taking out the stumps. Craig Ervine was caught plumb in front of a full length Johnson delivery – a decision that was reviewed by the Australians as the umpire had initially announced a verdict of not-out.
Captain Elton Chigumbura and Sean Williams started resurrecting the innings with a partnership of 44 in 9 overs. The introduction of Jason Krejza, the off spinner, saw Zimbabwe score some welcome runs but Krejza got one to pitch well outside the off stump to which Chigumbura played a sweep but succeeded only in getting an edge to wicket-keeper Brad Haddin. Tait then fired in a full length delivery at Williams who hung his bat out and edged low to Shane Watson at slip. Zimbabwe was running out of steam now.
Krejza added the wicket of Regis Chakabva before Prosper Utseya and Graeme Cremer came together to add 49 runs for the eighth wicket. Ponting introduced the spin of David Hussey in a bid to break the partnership. Hussey did exactly that in his second over when he had Utseya popping an easy catch to Ponting at midwicket. Johnson returned to get the remaining batsmen in no time and Australia cantered home.
Things were not looking as rosy in the afternoon, though. Ponting won a crucial toss and decided to bat. The first Powerplay yielded only 28 runs for Australia as they were tied down by some good bowling by Zimbabwe. Soon after they broke the shackles with a 17 run Mpofu over, Brad Haddin was trapped in front to a ball that spun sharply. This brought Ponting to the crease and together with Watson added 79 in only 12.3 overs as Watson began to find his timing and played some sweet shots.
Watson was the next to go against the run of play. He was caught in front of the crease to a ball that was straight. He made 79 with a six off Cremer and eight fours. Ponting was run out in the next over to a direct hit from Mpofu who was stationed at deep midwicket. Australia were only 144 at that time and it looked like Zimbabwe’s spinners who bowled very well would restrict Australia to less than 250.
Cameron White added 63 with Vice-captain Michael Clarke but this was not threatening to break free from the grip which Zimbabwe had on the match. White is not in the best of form these days. He plays best when he is able to dominate the bowling. Today he was not able to do that and ended up inside edging a slower delivery on to his stumps.
At the 45 over mark and at 207/4, one again thought Zimbabwe would be able to restrict Australia in the whereabouts of 250 which would have given them a good chance to win the match. But David Hussey changed all that in a cameo innings in which he struck a six of Sean Williams and a four off Utseya in consecutive overs and Clarke joined the fun scoring 15 runs of an Mpofu over. The pair had added 34 runs in only 3 overs and was looking good for more when Hussey missed a straighter one from Ray Price and was castled.
Steven Smith did not waste any time getting his eye in and scored 10 runs off the first two deliveries that he faced – a straight six and a slog sweep for four. Australia were past 250 now and Zimbabwe were concerned. Smith was dismissed off a full toss in the final over but Clarke and Johnson ensured Australia posted 262/6 at the end of their allotted 50 overs. 55 runs had come off the last 5 overs. It turned out to be more than enough for Australia as an inexperienced Zimbabwe batting were clueless against some high quality pace bowling.
Australia will need to work hard on their batting in the remaining matches, especially the way they play spin. Mitchell Johnson is a good candidate to be promoted up the order for some quick runs, especially when the spinners are operating. Teams with quality spinners are waiting to have a go at the Australia batsmen. If they are found wanting, it will be an uphill task to maintain their unbeaten run in World Cups even with the kind of lethal bowling that they have.
Zimbabwe will also have to work very very hard on their batting. They are missing someone like Andy Blignaut who could tear the bowling apart. Their spinners will do well in the tournament but if they are to proceed to the quarter finals they will need to get their batsmen to score big runs. Charles Coventry needs to back himself to score quickly at the top so that the middle order can play without pressure. Chigumbura needs to shed his indifferent form with the bat and should do what he knows best – take the bowling apart. They also need to have Craig Ervine at No.3 instead of Taibu who can be a slow starter.