New Delhi – Defending champions Australia take on Zimbabwe today as they launch their campaign for a fourth successive World Cup amid fallout over the humiliating defeats handed out to minnows Kenya and Canada.
The Aussies – who have not lost a single match in the past two World Cups – start the tournament without their usual favourites tag, but that does not bother skipper Ricky Ponting.
Despite losing a clutch of star players since they lifted the trophy in the Caribbean four years ago including Glenn McGrath, Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist, they remain the top-ranked side in one-day cricket.
And they come into the match in Ahmedabad after a confidence-boosting 6-1 ODI series win over England following their Ashes humiliation.
“We have maintained high standards in the past few years whether at home or abroad and managed to win one-day games. We are proud of that. We know how to play in the sub-continent in different stages of the tournament,” Ponting said.
“I don’t think we are really worried about whether we start as favourites or not. We are here to do our best and hopefully start the tournament on a good note,” he added.
Australia’s attack has been strengthened with the return of paceman Brett Lee, who played a crucial role in the one-day series win over England after a long injury lay-off.
Zimbabwe coach Alan Butcher said he would be happy to throw the new ball to a spinner, aware his opponents have struggled against spin on slow pitches, losing both of their warm-up matches against India and South Africa.
Zimbabwe have a clutch of spinners, Raymond Price, Prosper Utseya and Graeme Cremer, who are capable of exerting pressure.
“We know spinners are our best bowlers. That is going to be our strategy and the Australians also know it. There is a chance of a spinner opening the bowling, but we have to bowl well,” said Butcher.
Australia have won 25 of their 27 one-day internationals against Zimbabwe.
Their lone defeat came in the first game played between the two sides in the 1983 World Cup in England while one match was abandoned due to rain.
Meanwhile, Ponting skipper joined the debate on the future of the so-called minnows at cricket’s showpiece on a day that Kenya and Canada slumped to embarrassingly one-sided defeats.
Sri Lanka plundered 332-7 off the Canadian attack, winning by 210 runs, while Kenya crashed to a 10-wicket defeat at the hands of the Black Caps.
The next World Cup in 2015 will feature just 10 teams, down from the current 14, meaning it will almost certainly be the preserve of the Test sides and the smaller associate nations will be muscled out.
“We understand the responsibility to keep the game growing. For that, you need to bring on some of these small nations into the world of cricket. We want to see the game develop and blossom around the world,” Ponting said.
“I have always been unsure if the World Cups and the Champions Trophy are the right place to do that. And I am not sure as to how much the teams actually learn when they get hammered in these contests.
“At the end of the day, it would probably be a better tournament if there were fewer teams. The World Cup is the pinnacle of our sport,” Ponting added.
Cricket Kenya chief executive Tom Sears said last week the International Cricket Council would not be acting in the interests of the game if the smaller teams were locked out of the next World Cup.