CricInfo at World Cup 1999
[The ICC Cricket World Cup - England 1999]

Australia v Pakistan, 23 May 1999

by Trevor Chesterfield

Oz have that tired, glazed look

London - History's nasty trick of repeating itself may lead the Australians along a trail of false expectations in this year's World Cup as the mistakes of 1992 are set to repeat themselves.

Three weeks ago the Wizards of Oz were second favourites to South Africa for this year's event only the sparkle has gone out of their game and there is no magic formula, or wand, to revive what appear to be flagging image and fortunes.

After their surprise defeat by New Zealand at Cardiff on Thursday the Aussies find they are under pressure as they shape to play Pakistan on Sunday when Group A and B games are played on the same day for the first time this tournament. The Headingley, Leeds, clash could also lead to the undoing of Steve Waugh's side as they grapple with the side likely to replace them as second favourites.

In 1992 after they had played the WSC series, Allan Border's side lost both opening matches: to New Zealand in Auckland and South Africa in Sydney. It put them on the back foot for the remainder of the tournament. As reigning champions they were expected to at least to reach the semi-finals: they abjectly failed in this effort.

Just as Sri Lanka, winners in 1996, are most likely to make their exit in round one, so are Australia in danger of a similar, if shock route. Installed as second favourites to South Africa a month ago, they are now looking decidedly vulnerable.

Their fielding and bowling has been a shade tardy for a team which prides itself on a highly competitive and professional approach. There is also a decidedly exposed appearance about their batting; a surprising factor for a team which normally has few problems. There have been times when they have looked decidedly ordinary: a heavyweight with glazed eyes and looking for the smelling salts to revive their fortunes.

It could be that they have been too long on the road: four months of travelling through the West Indies and now the climatically unfriendly England and Wales. Even in the warm up games they looked a touch tired and weary of it all.

In 1992 Allan Border's side was pushed into a gruelling home season and by the time the World Cup started late February that year they had lost the fire and spark needed to win games.

Steve Waugh has been criticised for his leadership. There had long been an argument Shane Warne should have stepped into Mark Taylor's place. It is a touch unfair on the older Waugh brother who has done what he can.

Even New Zealand have muscled in on the act through their style of play as well as a commitment to showing the other top sides that they have the players to win. Little wonder their odds have shortened to 16/1.

Pakistan have beaten both Scotland and the West Indies and have looked professional about the way Wasim Akram, the ultimate competitor has gone about it. Should South Africa not get their yet again Pakistan playing in the final against England is not the sort of wild card bet which is far fetched as it seems.

There are still 14 games to play after Sunday and as the race to the Super Six now takes serious shape there is the distinct possibility the shift in betting and odds is going to move in a different direction.

If Wasim Akram's inspiration did much to lead Pakistan to a decided victory over West Indies, also looking decidedly flat the expected victory over Scotland was first engineered by the blinding pace of fire ball Shoaib Akhtar.

It is the cunning of Akram and the pace of Shoaib which is going to put the Australians through their biggest trial of ability and introspection since the recent drawn series against the West Indies. And in support there is also the skill of off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq.

Not at all an enticing prospect for the Steve Waugh-Shane Warne brainstrust to feel comfortable about. Another failure against a Test country would place them almost under untenable pressure and needing wins over Bangladesh and the West Indies to qualify, hoping the Kiwis will slip up somewhere.

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