PREVIEW: WI meet Aussies in showdown
Colombo, Sri Lanka - Two of cricket's traditional arch-rivals Australia and West Indies will come face-to-face with each other in what is expected to a huge semi-final battle on the ICC World T20 tournament.
Some of the aura has diminished in the last couple of years, Australia no longer the unstoppable force it used to be across all formats. Having ruled Test and One-Day International cricket – it won an unprecedented three ICC Cricket World Cups on the trot and went through the 2003 and 2007 editions undefeated – with an iron fist, Australia has since been knocked off the perch as the rest of the chasing pack has caught up, but that it still continues to be a force in international cricket despite a perceptible change in guard is credit to the system in place and to the talent coming through.
Talent has never been an issue with the West Indies. For sheer athleticism and enjoyment of the game, no one comes close to the men from the Caribbean, but the same attribute that has held Australia in excellent stead over the years has been the West Indies’ biggest undoing – discipline.
West Indies has repeatedly allowed the line between carefree and careless cricket to blur, which is why since it won the ICC Cricket World Cup 1979, its only global title has been the ICC Champions Trophy 2004.
That it now finds itself in the semi-final of the ICC World Twenty20 2012, where it will take on Australia at the R Premadasa Stadium on Friday, is, however, no surprise. West Indies was anointed favourites by many even before a ball had been bowled, and while it hasn’t always played like the team to beat, it has done more than enough to justify the expectations of the cricketing populace – until now, at least.
Standing between it and its first appearance in the final of a global tournament since 2004 is an Australian side that has completely mocked the rankings. Australia was placed a lowly No. 9 in the World T20 rankings at the start of the competition. It has since moved up to Number 6, which again doesn’t do justice to the brand of cricket it has played for most of the tournament, but then again, rankings aren’t always necessarily a true indication of a team’s worth.
Australia, however, has been heavily dependent on Shane Watson and David Warner, its superstar openers, who have taken bowling attacks apart with complete nonchalance. Just how reliant Australia is on the two powerhouses at the top of the order became all too obvious on Tuesday. Chasing Pakistan’s 149, Australia lost Watson, for his first failure of the event, and Warner inside the first five overs, and stumbled to 117 for 7, a total only made possible by the experience of Mike Hussey at Number 3.
West Indies will have taken note of Australia’s vulnerability against spin, and the inability of the middle-order to pull its weight when Watson and Warner both fail together. It obviously doesn’t have the same spinning resources as Pakistan, but Samuel Badree and Sunil Narine can be more than a handful, the former with his sliding leg-spin with the new ball and the latter with his deception and guile that Australia had found largely unfathomable when it toured the West Indies earlier in the year.
Much water has flowed under the bridge since the teams met in a Group B clash in the first stage of the competition on September 22. That was a match dominated completely by the batsmen, West Indies amassing 191 for 8 and Australia reaching 100 for 1 in just 9.1 overs when the rains arrived, leaving Australia victor by 17 runs on the Duckworth-Lewis method.
Since then, both have made changes to personnel in the bowling department, in deference to the conditions that greeted them in the Super Eights. Australia has turned to Xavier Doherty’s left-arm spin ahead of Daniel Christian, a move that has paid off handsomely with Doherty picking up early wickets and keeping the batsmen honest, while on the slightly less spin-responsive tracks in Pallekele, the West Indies brought Badree in to lend support to Narine.
Australia’s travails against Pakistan with the bat on Tuesday might pave the way for David Hussey’s inclusion in the playing XI for the first time in the competition. Glenn Maxwell, who was so impressive in the UAE against Pakistan, could miss out, especially considering his off-spin too has been used only sparingly by George Bailey.
For all of Watson’s all-round brilliance, Chris Gayle will be the man to watch out for. He has had a few good innings but the real big one has been elusive. Gayle’s liking for left-arm spin is no secret, so it will be interesting to see if Bailey persists with Doherty as a new-ball option in the hope that Doherty will do the early, and potentially decisive, damage.
It will be the second Australia v West Indies clash of Friday – the women meet in the second semi-final of the Women’s World T20 earlier in the evening – and one that should send the pulse racing. West Indian fire against Australian ice is always a fascinating prospect.