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Feb 20, 2011 at 07:20am IST

Aus overwhelming favourites against Zim

Ahmedabad: It may have lost its invincible reputation, but Australia is not ready to give up its World Cup title without a fight.

It may even relish the fact that India, Sri Lanka and South Africa are tipped ahead of it despite being the defending champion and winner of the last three tournaments.

Buoyed by a chance to prove doubters wrong, Australia hopes to continue its World Cup success story in 2011, beginning on Monday in Group A against a Zimbabwe team at the start of a new chapter.

Aus overwhelming favourites against Zim

Zimbabwe have not beaten Australia in an ODI since the 1983 World Cup.

The African side has battled back from an ugly player-board bust-up that stripped it of nearly all its top players as they fled to foreign leagues.

It's taken nearly seven years but the southern African nation, which first announced itself at the World Cup with a shock win over mighty Australia in 1983, says it's moving in the right direction again after a period of regression.

Australia and Zimbabwe both want to win back respect at this tournament, starting with their meeting at the Sardar Patel Stadium.

However, it could be a mismatch if both revert to that one-day form of old, where Australia conquered all and Zimbabwe struggled.

All-rounder Shane Watson welcomed the start of the Aussies' campaign, and maintained the new-look squad was comfortable in itself and not overwhelmed by the impressive legacy left by dominant previous Australia teams.

"There's pressure to perform any time," Watson said. "I don't see any pressure to actually defend the World Cup because we are a very different team to what the team was in 2007 (Australia's last title).

"I think it's going to be very exciting to be a part of a World Cup. I know we as a group are in a really good place with our one-day cricket. It's going to be a lot of fun."

The 29-year-old all-rounder was a key part of Australia's recent dominating ODI series win over England, which revived it after an Ashes defeat and back to back series losses against India and Sri Lanka late last year.

The players were now "jumping out of their skins" with excitement to start the World Cup, Watson said, and planning to replicate the form of the 6-1 series victory over England against Zimbabwe.

"We played some good cricket this summer in Australia but we also knew there's a little bit of improvement to go in just about all aspects of our one-day cricket.

"It's hopefully going to be a great start for us and hopefully we can put the performances on the board immediately."

Confident again, Australia's frontline batsmen like Watson, Ricky Ponting — who is searching for a record third title as captain — and Michael Clarke offer an imposing top-order against Zimbabwe's threadbare pace attack.

And express pace trio Brett Lee, Shaun Tait and Mitchell Johnson should be too powerful for the Zimbabwean batters, even on a sluggish Ahmedabad pitch.

Zimbabwe does have a spin-heavy bowling lineup — with four specialist spinners in its squad — that it hopes will save its mediocre fast bowlers and batsmen.

Leg spinner Graeme Cremer said Zimbabwe's slow bowlers had been watching TV clips of India's Harbhajan Singh to pick up tips on how to bowl on local wickets, adding it "was good for us."

But Zimbabwe will have to produce an outstanding all-round performance, like the one in 1983, if it is to throw up another major upset.

Batting coach Grant Flower said the famous '83 victory was "a long time ago now" and Zimbabwe's batsmen will likely have to face up to an onslaught from the Aussie fast men.

"They've got some very good quick bowlers and I'm sure they will be backing themselves against us," Flower said. "There might be some short stuff but I think the guys are aware of that and have practiced for that. Hopefully we'll have prepared properly."

The problems between Zimbabwe's cricket board and senior players — of which Flower was one — was "hopefully all in the past," the batting coach said, and Zimbabwe could now concentrate on reviving its performances on the pitch.

"I think both parties probably made some mistakes but that's life, nothing's perfect. I think things are moving in the right direction ... and I think a lot of good things have happened."

Flower added he had told his players ahead of the Australia match to "try and enjoy the moment because you never know when your next World Cup's going to be coming about. Try not to put too much pressure on yourself and enjoy the challenge."

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