BANGALORE, India, March 16 – Australia head into their penultimate group match against Canada on Wednesday knowing it is likely to be the last time in this World Cup they can tinker with their line-up.The reigning champions eased into the quarter-finals with an unconvincing 60-run win against Kenya at Bangalore’s Chinnaswamy Stadium on Sunday.
Australia captain Ricky Ponting’s decision to bat first and Kenya’s spirited effort in making 264 for six in reply to the champions’ 324-6 ensured the match went the full 100 overs.
The game was Australia’s first complete match in more than a fortnight following their no-result washout against co-hosts Sri Lanka.
But several frontline batsmen, including Ponting himself, did not spend as much time in the middle as they would have liked, while all of Australia’s spinners went wicketless.
With tougher challenges ahead, Australia may decide to rest one of their pace trio of Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson and the injury-prone Shaun Tait for the Canada match, with back-up seamer John Hastings champing at the bit.
Australia, bidding for a fourth straight World Cup title and fifth in all, may be the only unbeaten side in this tournament but they have yet to be tested ahead of their final Group A match against Pakistan in Colombo on Saturday.
The result of that match could have a major bearing on Australia’s quarter-final opponents, with the titleholders’ net run-rate — damaged by Kenya’s defiance with the bat — a potential factor.
Australia may also alter their batting order against Canada to give the likes of Cameron White, out for just two against Kenya, another chance.
One thing Ponting will want to see on Wednesday is an improved display by his slow bowlers after leg-spinner Steven Smith, off-break bowler Jason Krejza and left-armer Michael Clarke’s combined 19 wicketless overs against Kenya cost 93 runs on a pitch taking turn.
"Through those middle overs in this tournament when the ball gets old, and the wicket starts to spin, we are going to need our spinners to strike for us, and that didn’t happen against Kenya," Ponting said.
However, Australia did receive a big boost when Michael Hussey marked his first appearance of the tournament against Kenya with a typically composed fifty.
It had seemed the veteran left-hander would miss the World Cup because of hamstring trouble but he was summoned to the subcontinent as a replacement for injured fast bowler Doug Bollinger.
"It looked like he hadn’t missed a beat," Ponting said of Hussey, selected instead of younger brother David Hussey. "It’s a great sign for us."
Canada, who beat Kenya by five wickets for their only win of the tournament, suffered a 97-run thrashing by New Zealand on Sunday with the Black Caps piling up a huge total of 358 for six.
Wednesday’s match will mark Canada veteran John Davison’s final game of international cricket before retirement.
The 40-year-old off-spinner, born in Canada but brought up in Australia, knows the champions well.
He has played against the likes of Ponting in state cricket and has worked with Krejza and Smith in his ongoing role as a coach at Australia’s Centre of Excellence in Brisbane.
"I suppose it’s pretty fitting it’s against Australia," Davison said of his international finale.
"I’ve lived all my life there, never quite good enough to get a game for them but it will be a great experience to play against them."