Bangalore: It is a mismatch of mammoth proportions as holders Australia square off against minnows Kenya but given that the underdogs have caused a few surprises this World Cup, Ricky Ponting’s men would be on their guard when the two sides clash here on Sunday.
Unbeaten for the past two World Cups, Australia’s last match, against Sri Lanka, was a washout and they would be looking to secure a quarterfinal berth by registering a win on Sunday against winless Kenyans.
The Aussies have been bolstered by the return of middle-order mainstay Michael Hussey in the line-up which was looking a bit suspect without his wealth of experience and finishing ability.
But it remains to be seen how quickly the left-hander warms up to the sub-continental pitches. He has the backing of the team with vice-captain Michael Clarke saying that Hussey would have an important role to play.
The four-time winners, who did not lose a single match on their way to titles in 2003 and 2007, scripting a 31-match unbeaten streak in World Cup, were expected to run into tough challenge from Sri Lanka in the much-awaited match of equals but rain denied Australia the chance to assess their real strengths ahead of the knockout stage.
Having played just three matches, the Australian team is in the fourth place in the points table, but tomorrow’s tie against Kenya and the next one against another associate nation Canada (March 16) should put them on top.
The Aussies have not yet been tested against tough teams and the match against Kenya gives them a chance to experiment a bit with the line-up and assess how it works before the big clash against Pakistan on March 19.
But even clashes against minnows have been enough to expose the Australian spin department’s shortcomings due to the injury-forced absence of Nathan Hauritz. This could prove to be a vital factor for success on sub-continental pitches. Off-spinner Jason Krejza and Steve Smith, who bowls leg-spin, will be keen to make their mark in tomorrow’s match.
The Aussies, however, continue to rely heavily on their pace battery. Brett Lee, Shaun Tait and Mitchell Johnson have so far done well, being the main wicket-takers.
On the other hand, Kenya, playing in their fifth World Cup since 1996, been struggling massively in the event.
Thrashed by New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and even Canada, Kenyans’ performance was abysmal with neither batting nor the bowling making an impression.
A win seems far-fetched but the Kenyans can at least come up with a spirited performance to regain some lost pride and they can start by at least batting out 50 overs.
Kenya would be banking on the experience of 39-year-old all-rounder Steve Tikolo and medium pacer Thomas Odoyo, both playing their fifth World Cup.
Among their batsmen, Collins Obuya (144 runs), David Obuya (53), Tanmay Mishra (57) and Thomas Odoyo (53) have been the main scorers.
In bowling, the team has come well prepared for the sub-continent conditions packing it with four spinners. Besides Tikolo, newly-appointed captain James Kamande and Shem Ngoche would be the main strike bowlers.
Australia: Ricky Ponting (capt), Shane Watson, Brad Haddin, Michael Clarke, Michael Hussey, David Hussey, Cameron White, Tim Paine, Steve Smith, John Hastings, Mitchell Johnson, Jason Krejza, Brett Lee, Shaun Tait, Callum Ferguson.
Kenya: Jimmy Kamande (capt), Seren Waters, Alex Obanda, David Obuya, Collins Obuya, Steve Tikolo, Tanmay Mishra, Rakep Patel, Morris Ouma, Thomas Odoyo, Nehemiah Odhiambo, Elijah Otieno, Peter Ongondo, Shem Ngoche, James Ngoche.
Umpires: Asad Rauf (PAK) and Richard Kettleborough (ENG)
TV umpire: Billy Bowden (NZL)
Match referee: Andy Pycroft (ZIM)
Match start: 1430hrs (IST).