Don’t go by the ICC’s rankings for Twenty20 teams. Though the four-time ODI world champions are at ninth spot in the rankings, it will mean nothing to them ahead of the World Twenty20 starting September 18.
The Australians gave a clear message last week in Dubai, just after they had been subjected to their worst defeat in Twenty20s. Riding on a brilliant 111-run stand by openers Shane Watson and David Warner, they inflicted a crushing 94-run win over Pakistan in the final match. Though the series had been lost, it was a signal that Australia should not be taken lightly. As Australia’s Twenty20 captain George Bailey admitted, the team has its sights set firmly on the World Twenty20 – the only ICC trophy they have never won.
The inspirational performance from Warner and Watson has instilled a sense of belief in the side, and indeed they will be the most dangerous players in the team in Sri Lanka. While conceding that Warner and Watson were key players for Australia, Bailey said their opponents would be foolhardy to think they were a two-man team. "They're two of our most destructive batsmen and if they fire, we're pretty hard to beat. In terms of us relying on them, they're match-winners but I don't think they are the only ways we can win. If you just looked at them, I think you'd be doing the rest of the team a disservice,” he said.
Though they have slipped down the ICC's Twenty20 ladder, Australia are a side brimming with confidence.
Australia’s record at the World Twenty20 reads for mixed reading. In 2007, their campaign in South Africa began on an embarrassing note as they suffered an unexpected defeat by Zimbabwe. They regained momentum, and overcame a six-wicket defeat to Pakistan to make the semi-finals where they lost a tense battle to India.
In 2009, Australia lost their first two matches – by seven wickets to West Indies an in a Super Over to Sri Lanka – and exited in the first round. In 2010, they played superbly throughout the tournament, thumping Pakistan and Bangladesh and riding on their batsmen to reach the semi-finals. In one of the greatest Twenty20s ever, Michael Hussey hit 22 off the last four balls of the match to knock the defending champions Pakistan out and set up a final with England. Going into the match the team was tagged as favourites but plundered to defeat in Barbados after being unbeaten until then.
In 2012, Australia are not letting the rankings reflect in their mood. With the likes of youngsters Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc and an experienced campaigner in Ben Hilfenhaus, Australia have strong bowling attack. The return of Brad Hogg adds variety to the bowling, and in conditions assisting turn the 41-year-old and left-arm spinner Xavier Doherty will prove a handful. The batting looks patchy, but if Warner and Watson tee off then Australia can look at a strong total.
Australia will face Ireland in their opening Group B match on September 19 before meeting West Indies on September 22.
David Warner: After his innings in Dubai, Warner’s performance is not a worry for Australian. The opener’s Twenty20 strike rate of 140.71 is a danger sign for any team and if he gets going, stopping Warner won’t be easy.
Shane Watson: The perfect modern-day allrounder and a match-winner at the top of the innings, Watson bats robustly and is a big-match player. With Warner he shared a record opening stand of 111-run against Pakistan recently and his morale is high. That could spell danger for opposing teams.
Michael Hussey: His patience and assaulting attitude can grind any bowling attack. Hussy has the ability to propel innings in difficult situation, most famously in the 2010 semi-finals. An experienced game-changer, Hussey will be the key batsman in the middle order.
Mitchell Starc: At 22, he is youngest pacer in the fold with an ability to swing the ball both ways. His match-winning spell of 3 for 11 against Pakistan in the last Twenty20 was an incredible performance and Australia will expect more from Starc in Sri Lanka.
Brad Hogg: The oldest and most experienced player in the side, Hogg will be the key on the slow tracks in Sri Lanka. A Twenty20 freelancer since his retirement from international cricket in 2008, Hogg’s recall at the age of 41 has brought mixed results: in the second Twenty20 against Australia he went for 38 in his quota but in the third he bowled sensationally for figures of 1 for 11 - the most economical four-over spell by an Australian in a Twenty20 international. His batting is a bonus.