CHENNAI: “It’s unusual for us to go into a World Cup with the tag of underdog. It’s a new group, a new coach. It’s a new label for the team. But that’ll take the pressure off of us.” That pinch of optimism at the end notwithstanding, Michael Kasprowicz’s nutshell of how things stand for Australia before the big event in England four months later couldn’t have been more to the point. The former pacer — in the city on Saturday as part of an Australia Day initiative by the nation’s consulate — not only touched upon the current scenario on the field, but off it too.
It’s been nearly a year since that incident involving a piece of sandpaper threw the cricketing landscape Down Under into chaos. And Kasprowicz, a non-executive board director with Cricket Australia, felt that a lot of water has passed under that bridge.“The way I look at it, this is the best time to be involved on that front,” explained the 46-year-old. “Because this isn’t just about recalibration, but more about rebuilding.
Everyone in Australia is very emotional when it comes to cricket, and that’s a good thing. It’s about reconnecting with the public as well. What we’re looking at now is to build this team and support them by putting up the required structures around them.”Firefighting efforts on the administrative front may have doused some flames, but in line with Kasprowicz’s use of the word “underdog”, Australia have quite a bit of catching up to do, if they intend to make an impact in England.
Their ODI rank is the least in the vaunted SENA group: sixth. Not to mention that it was only last November when they managed to break a seven-match losing streak (their worst ever), against South Africa at home. That too culminated in a series loss. And we’re not even talking about what happened against Virat Kohli’s team last month.
“I still see a lot of talent in Australia, with the pace bowlers, all-rounders and batsmen,” observed Kasprowicz. “I think this has more to do with finding the right combination. Plus, you’ll have (David) Warner and (Steve) Smith back. They’re world-class batsmen, and they’ve just had a big break. Ideally, you’d want a lot more cricket before the World Cup begins, but we don’t live in an ideal world. Irrespective, form is just a ball or a wicket away,” he added.
The two solid additions to their batting inventory notwithstanding, Australia still have to grapple with the flailing form of their pace battery. Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins — his Test exploits against India apart — and Josh Hazlewood have all received flak for their performance with the white ball. Their diminishing wicket returns apart, that Australia will head for England and its flat pitches with the worst economy rate in death overs last year (8) will be another cause for concern.
Kasprowicz, though, believes that Australia’s pacers will bounce back, come May 30. “Apart from them, Jhye (Richardson) and (Jason) Behrendorff have also come good. His form apart, Starc will still be the pace spearhead at the World Cup. He’s always an attacking bowler and a wicket-taker, and his skills are even more pronounced with the Kookaburra. One way of stopping teams from reaching huge totals is to keep effecting dismissals. Starc will be pivotal in that context.”