Australia cantered along to decisive and much expected victories.
Two successive scores in excess of 300 and anyone would know this would be no easy opposition. But is it a case of peaking too far before time? Or is Australia showing it is coming back into contention with a resurgent force that will be hard to rein in?
Australia came to the World Cup in the Caribbean under a cloud. Losing games in succession to England in the tri series and then in the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy in New Zealand to the hosts meant Australia had six heavy defeats that set the cricketing world abuzz. To top it all, Australia lost the coveted number one position to arguably one of their most antagonist rivals, South Africa, just before landing in the West Indies.
It could then not have been emphasized that the need of the hour was on the two time defending World Cup champions too begin with a reverberating resonance, albeit against two of the youngest nations in the World Cup. There would be no upsets here as Australia cantered along to decisive and much expected victories.
In their first game of the World Cup against Scotland, Australia rallied around Ricky Pontings ominous century, the twenty-third of his one day career. Matthew Haydens half-century was almost as important as it was for Australias pride to be restored given that the left hander has had much grief over his loss of form and subsequent drop from the team over the last six months. That set, Australia galloped along to a nice 334 for six.
Without being disrespectful to Scotland, the minnows were little match standing up to the tall total and caved in for 131. This was despite their wicketkeeper Colin Smith scoring a half-century, lofty considering the overall tally of Scotland but really a drop in the ocean against Australias mammoth total. Ponting may not have had his young bowling wards quite up to par as he would like. But Glen McGrath led Australias charge with three easy scalps.
After losing the game ignominiously to South Africa with the latter taking care of all of the accolades, Netherlands had the tough task of facing the brunt of Australia. It was not quite as spectacular as South Africas innings. But Australia still had stars coming to the fore in the form of Brad Hodge scoring his maiden century and Michael Clarke almost getting one of his own as well. Another score in excess of 300 and Australia looked comfortable at the World Cup.
Yet again Daan Van Bunges thirty-three could not hold its own against the colossal target of the opposition and Netherlands began to slip away as McGraths picked up his fiftieth wicket of the World Cup, second now only to Wasim Akram. Brad Hogg completed the demolition with four wickets to his name and Australia had their second victory in succession by a margin in excess of 200 runs!
Australia still has a chink or two in that Ponting is fighting a battle of prayer to get what his considers his lucky talisman in Andrew Symonds who has had to be held back in the game against Netherlands on fitness grounds. So, Ponting will still have a fair a bit of concerns over his bowling line up and the lurking concern of his young pace men matching up to tougher battles must be something the skipper is keeping an eye on, even though these kind of victories can easily blind one to their own flaws.
After the shock defeats that India and Pakistan succumbed to a day earlier, the air was certainly charged heavy. That alone could have knocked off a team or two off their feet. But Australia kept the record straight and will now go into the final league game against South Africa with the pride restored and team morale intact. But there are whispers in soft corners of the Australians being a little weary of facing their rivals from the southern hemisphere. It is always difficult not to be carried away by the early wins, especially after a turbulent month or two. But it is also equally easy to be lulled into a false sense of security to be objectively assertive of match preparedness against a better team after almost non-combative games. Australia will feel they have not entirely exonerated themselves.