Hedging their bets

For the first time since Australia finally ended West Indies' 20-year run of success in 1995, their selectors have had tricky decisions to make regarding the composition of the team. Even at the beginning of the recent series against England there were still six players left of that era.

Now of course, there are only three — Glenn McGrath, Matthew Hayden and skipper Ricky Ponting — and the Australian selectors have had to gamble on some selections. The most notable are of fast bowlers Mitchell Johnson, Shaun Tait and Shane Watson. You could also add the injured Andrew Symonds.

To me the worrying point is the selection of Watson and Tait. Both of them have been prone to injuries and have missed many matches in their careers. Even this year they have both been out through injuries, but the selectors have rushed them back into Australia's one-day squad.

The Australian selectors made it very clear that they wanted Shane Watson in the team for the ICC Champions Trophy in India last year.

Even though he had very little or no experience at all as an opener, within a few days of arriving in India they informed the regular opener Simon Katich that he probably wouldn't be playing many games and replaced him with Watson. Katich didn't play even one match in that tournament.

While Watson is a competent, bustling cricketer, I have doubts if he has the skills or flexibility to cope with cricket at the highest level. To me, he looks like an over-coached player, lacking in natural skills and movements. Perhaps this is one reason why he has had so many injuries. Tait is totally the opposite. He is an old-fashioned tearaway with the capacity to bowl very, very quick and take wickets. But then, the problem with most tearaway fast bowlers is that they can also be wayward and very expensive.

The Australian selectors expect Tait to be in full flow and see his pace and reverse swinging yorkers as match winners.

When on song Tait may well be so. He will never be dull to watch. But he will need a good backup from the other fast bowlers to cover up for any waywardness.

Genuine swing bowlers have always done well in the West Indies, and I wouldn't be surprised if the left-handed paceman Mitchell Johnson has a very good World Cup. He is a great prospect with good pace and the rare ability to swing the ball into the right-handed batsman. He normally bowls a tidy line and length and his bounce is also good. He could catch many batsmen by surprise.

Australia have taken a gamble in the selection of the team for the World Cup. The most vital will undoubtedly be Andrew Symonds.

Without Symonds' all-round skills, Australia's balance would be suspect. While his batting gets most of the applause, it is his bowling — both medium pace and spin — that is of enormous value. He is the man Australia turn to when things go wrong.

Australia go to the West Indies with only one genuine spinner, Brad Hogg. I think he is a fine one-day player, but considering that he has played only a few matches in the recent one-day series, the Australian selectors don't think so. If Hogg doesn't receive early opportunities in the West Indies, Symonds is the only quality alternative.

Symonds' injury was particularly disappointing and is a pointer to the poor management and coaching.

The Australians have been undergoing what is described as loading training. The reasoning behind this is: this kind of training being really tough, long sessions, even one or two days before matches would help the players to toughen up for the World Cup even though it is only in March. It was at one of these four-hour sessions, which included two hours of fielding with emphasis on throwing, that Symonds felt the injury. He aggravated it the next day in the one-day match of the tri-series against England, necessitating a major operation.

The amount of throwing practice that the Australian players underwent instead of a long, slow build up over some weeks was unbelievable. Throwing is perhaps the most dynamic of all physical actions in cricket and must be undertaken with diligence and care. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have been done in Symonds' preparations.

Shoulder injuries are notoriously difficult to recover from and it will really be fortunate if Symonds gets to play a major role in the 2007 World Cup.

How the wickets play has always been a deciding factor in the World Cup, and it will be no different this time in the West Indies.

Many, many years ago, almost every turf wicket played the same. Most of them were quick and flat, but unfortunately it isn't the case today. So, one of the factors that will govern who wins the World Cup this year will be the teams' ability to handle every condition.

I don't expect to see too many swing bowlers in the West Indies and this will be to Australia's advantage. It is only swing that has worried them in recent years and I am sure Australia will start as favourites for this World Cup.

I like the look of the Australian line-up. They have much experience and the batsmen to handle most situations. They also have the players who can hold the ship upright in bad times.