Adaptability is its forte

Australia has dominated world cricket for quite some time, thanks to its self-belief. Driven by a fierce desire to keep improving, it has stayed at the top with a stunning collective show. The team does not lack in individual brilliance, writes Vijay Lokapally.

An eternal favourite, Australia will be the team to watch. For sheer consistency and quality of cricket, there is no team to match Ricky Ponting's bunch of performers. History confirms that Australia has always been the team that has the character to win from hopeless situations.

When Australia reached the final in the inaugural World Cup in 1975, it had played to its potential with an array of stars, thereby ensuring that the team's reputation stood intact. It was Clive Lloyd's brilliance that stopped the Aussies from winning.

Winning the World Cup in 1987 was the first step that Australia took towards attaining greatness in one-day cricket. By winning the crown in 1999 and 2003 it not only affirmed its greatness but also invited greater scrutiny. Critics now evaluate Australia with far more intensity as Ponting and his team prepare for the challenge in the Caribbean.

The pressure is on Australia to perform and live up to its status as a near-invincible team in one-day cricket. The recent signs have been disturbing for Australia but then it has the capacity to absorb the setbacks and come good when it matters. The defeat to England at home in the Commonwealth Bank Series and the 3-0 whipping in New Zealand exposed the weak side of Australia.

Under pressure, Australia looks as vulnerable as any other side in world cricket, and it is this aspect that should worry Ponting on the eve of the World Cup.

Coach John Buchanan has been the brain behind Australia's whopping success, but of late he too has come under fire for his inability to motivate the team. This could be a passing phase. Buchanan did not wilt in 1999 and 2003 when his team took time to settle down and a couple of disappointments on the field helped Australia to understand its strengths and weaknesses quite early and adapt to the situation. Australia is perhaps the only team that can adapt to any situation. The quality of its cricket is unmatched as the team continues to set new benchmarks. It has the most compact bowling attack even though Shane Warne has stayed away from one-day cricket.

In Australian cricket, it is all about making the most of the opportunities one gets because the pool of competitors is large. That a good performer like Stuart Clark was not picked originally for the World Cup is a reflection of Australia's strong system.

Brett Lee's absence is a huge blow for Australia. One of the most colourful characters of world cricket, the fast bowler was forced out of the team due to an ankle injury he suffered just before the Chappell-Hadlee one-day series in New Zealand. Lee is one of the rare breed of bowlers who does not believe in defensive tactics. He is not the one to bowl a restrictive line and his absence would mean added responsibility for veteran Glenn McGrath.

Australia's stiffest challenge comes from within. The injury factor can make an adverse impact on the team's chances. Much would depend on how quickly the players attain the required fitness to go into a tournament that stretches too long and tests a professional's consistency in the most demanding situations.

Andrew Symonds continues to be a cause of concern and his return to the team would mean a lot. To pick an injured player and hope for him to recover in time for the key matches only shows the confidence Australia has in Symonds.

For long Australia has dominated world cricket, thanks to its self-belief. Driven by a fierce desire to keep improving, Australia has stayed at the top with a stunning collective show. The team does not lack in individual brilliance and this is the main reason why Australia plays attractive cricket in all conditions.

True, the team suffered defeats against England and New Zealand but not much should be read into those results because Australia is capable of recovering in time for the World Cup.

Form has never been a worry for the Australians and this is just the time for the team to silence its critics who have suddenly realised that Ponting and his men are susceptible to pressure. But Australia will not lose sleep over the setbacks it suffered recently, and knowing Ponting's determination, the team can be expected to come back strongly.

Players to watch

Ricky Ponting: An incredibly confident batsman who is known to revel in adverse situations. Consistency has been the hallmark of this attacking cricketer and captaincy has brought out the best in him. The ease with which he took on the role of Australia's captain after Steve Waugh was a testimony to his excellent grooming and his own ability to respond to the challenges.

Ponting is known to single-handedly destroy the opposition and his power-packed knock in the 2003 final was an epic performance. It put India out of the contest and established him as one of the most dangerous batsmen in world cricket. He will be the key to Australia winning the Cup.

Adam Gilchrist: Though not in the best of form, he continues to worry bowlers on the circuit with his aggression. The amazing range of shots that he brings into play makes him the most difficult batsman to deal with.

Gilchrist has been one of the pillars of Australia's dominance in world cricket. The World Cup could just be the stage for the wicketkeeper-batsman to showcase his abilities and prove to the world that he is still the force that he was until the last season. His will be the most prized wicket even though the pitches in the West Indies may require Gilchrist to make a few adjustments.

Michael Hussey: The most trusted finisher, Hussey has come to play the role that Michael Bevan was so adept at. His strong grooming has meant that Hussey has the mental strength to deal with difficult situations and he is one player who can be expected to leave an impression on the competition.

Hussey's style infuses confidence in the ranks and it will be a challenge for the bowlers to keep him in check for the simple reason that he places a lot of value on his wicket. Australia will rely heavily on his form and consistency.

Glenn McGrath: A complete bowler and a complete competitor. For years, he has remained one of the most economical bowlers in world cricket and his vast experience has made life difficult for the batsmen. Not the one to bank on help from the pitches, McGrath is known for his ability to bowl a nagging line and length but his greatest strength is his will to perform. He can read a batsman far quicker than any other bowler and he has always been Australia's greatest strength for a decade now. In the absence of Shane Warne, he has shouldered the responsibility with confidence.

Andrew Symonds: The best man to have in the team, for he fights best when under pressure. He can change the course of the match with a stunning stroke or a lethal delivery. His brilliant fielding makes him a complete cricketer and the most confident player in recent times.

It is difficult to contain Symonds because of the array of shots he possesses. A powerful striker of the ball, he is a proven match-winner and remains one of the key players of Australia. His recovery from injury is crucial for Australia.