A home win will really round it off!

Reputation precedes Australia at every World Cup, from the time it gave the West Indies a great fight at Lord’s in 1975. It is an epic that continues to fascinate cricket lovers through footage of vintage value. Two great teams contributed to boost the spirit of the game and the popularity of one-day cricket to such an extent that the World Cup has grown into a magnificent stage showcasing the best of international cricket in a capsule that attracts one and all.

Winning the Cup four times is an awesome record for a team that excels when not playing at home. The triumph at the Eden Gardens in Calcutta in 1987 was the beginning of a journey that saw Australia win three titles in a row, beginning 1999. Steve Waugh (1999) and Ricky Ponting (2003 and 2007) were the proud captains to hold the trophy after Allan Border had pulled off a sensational coup with a modest combination in 1987.

True, the conditions would give Australia the advantage at the 2015 World Cup, but then the pressure of playing in front of a home crowd would obviously count and test the temperament of the young squad. There are many issues that confront Australia and the crucial one at the time of writing this piece is the availability of Michael Clarke. His presence, or absence, will impact the team’s performance. His leadership and his ability to pull off match-winning knocks is a quality not many possess in contemporary international cricket.

On paper, Australia looks a formidable squad, capable of stopping the challenges from New Zealand and South Africa with India not far behind. Pre-tournament form may not be encouraging for some of the teams but then it would be a different situation when the Cup begins. The format allows the strong teams to settle and plan the knockout stage, and here Australia will stand to gain because of home conditions.

Australia’s forte has been its collective strength. It has always followed the horses for courses policy and given its best on the biggest stage.

This ability to play the big games best was seen at the 1999, 2003 and 2007 World Cups when it decimated the oppositions, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka, in the final. This kind of domination stems from the confidence that Australia carries to the middle even when faced with crisis. Pulling off incredible victories has been Australia’s trademark and its attacking instincts also prove to be a strong point.

This team has the potential to go the distance. It has a compact combination of proven match-winners and the mix of experience and youth should come in handy in the latter part of the tournament when nerves play a decisive part. Past reputation and performances could be the fulcrum to push Australia’s dream of a fifth title. For Clarke, battling injury, the motivation of winning the Cup at home could be the driving force.

The pitches suit the Australian way of playing with the ball coming on to the bat nicely. The power-packed style of its batsmen, bred on huge grounds and possessing the quality to clear them with big hits, will be an added advantage.

Bowlers like Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath played pivotal roles in Australia’s past triumphs and importantly left a legacy for the current lot to emulate. Prime fitness and form at the right moment has seen Australia maintain its consistency and it should not be any different this time.

Its image as the greatest team in the history of the World Cup has been earned through enviable achievements. It is for Clarke’s men to relive those glorious moments of 1987, 1999, 2003 and 2007.

POSITIVE INTENT

The strong batting line-up at its command will be Australia's strength. The heavy top-order and a performing middle- order gives the team the edge. Australia also benefits from the ability of their batsmen to innovate and produce shots that can scatter the best of fields and upset the best of bowlers.

There is an innate drive in the Australians to dominate and it can be spotted through the ranks where the players complement each other. The emphasis on picking players who combine and reflect the team's positive intent has always shown Australia as the best prepared squad.

There, however, will be the fear of failure in front of home crowds. Even though the presence of all-rounders allows Australia to experiment, the absence of a good spinner can prove tricky, as has been pointed out by some experts of the game.

The bowling is dependent on pace and left-arm spinner Xavier Doherty will feel the pressure, especially when stars like Mitchell Johnson and Shane Watson don't deliver with the ball. The inexperience of Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood can give the team some worries during tense situations but the team has the ability to run up big totals and give the bowlers the desired cushion.

* * * PLAYERS TO WATCH

David Warner: The most explosive batsman on the circuit, he can deal some incredible blows from the very first ball. His range of shots also makes it tough for a captain to set a field. His fearless attitude is his strongest point and can change the course of a match.

Steve Smith: In amazing form after his elevation as Test captain in the absence of Clarke. A sort of revelation with his ability to take charge and dictate, he is known to grow in strength with every ball. His presence also motivates his partner to adopt a positive approach and this works wonders for the team.

Mitchell Johnson: An asset for any captain. His reliance on pace and aggression is what the Australian team needs in the competition. It also works in his favour that he can provide the breakthroughs when asked for. To have a bowler like him gives the attack an incisive look because he looks to take wickets.

Mitchell Starc: An ideal element in the team's bowling department. He can be a crafty customer and does not believe in containing the batsmen. The length that he commands can be discomfiting for those lacking in good technique. He can work up speed and his change of pace works in his favour as well.

* * * THE TEAM

Michael Clarke (captain), George Bailey, Pat Cummins, Xavier Doherty, James Faulkner, Aaron Finch, Brad Haddin (wicketkeeper), Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Steven Smith, Mitchell Starc, David Warner and Shane Watson.

Vijay Lokapally