Australia have the pedigree but form is more elusive

Sydney: Australia`s troubles in the run-up to the World Cup can be neatly summed up by the predicament of skipper Ricky Ponting: a world-class performer struggling with form and battling injury.

Australia certainly have the pedigree as the top-ranked team in the limited-overs game and the three-times defending champions at the World Cup, where they are unbeaten in 29 matches.

They lost their first-ever home series to Sri Lanka to kick off the Australian summer, however, and, although they beat a jaded England 6-1 in the post-Ashes one-day series, their form has in the main been patchy and hardly world-beating.

No one can doubt Ponting`s pedigree either, his 13,082 runs and 29 centuries making him the third most prolific batsman in one-day internationals.

Although he remains confident of his team`s chances, Ponting knows that the fractured finger that spared him the final rites of the Ashes drubbing means he is not yet certain to play at the Feb. 19-April 2 tournament.

"It`s quite clear we are the number one ranked team in the world," he said. "Our World Cup record speaks for itself and we have a really good balance of youth and experience in the squad to succeed in the tournament."

Even before the injury, Ponting`s form with the bat was a matter of concern in Australia while his acumen as captain has continually been called into question despite his great success, particularly in the 50-overs form of the game.

Other injuries are also worrying Australia. Shaun Marsh, the man most likely to be drafted into the squad should Ponting or Mike Hussey, who has a hamstring injury, fail to make it, is himself troubled by a hamstring problem.

Nathan Hauritz, the one specialist spin bowler named in the 15-man World Cup squad, dislocated his shoulder in the second one-dayer against England and had to undergo surgery.

Australia are unlikely to set off for the tournament without a spinner given the importance of the slow bowler on the dusty tracks of the subcontinent but the most obvious replacement, Xavier Doherty, injured his back against England.

Michael Clarke would captain the side if Ponting failed to prove his fitness. Although he is fully fit, the 29-year-old has been out of form and home crowds have booed him recently.

He arrested his batting slump with successive half centuries against England, however, including the 82 which inspired Australia to a record run-chase in the sixth match of the series at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

"It`s a huge win for us and we can take a lot of confidence from that run-chase going into the World Cup," he said after Australia had scored 334 for victory.

"I think there`s going to be some pretty big scores, some pretty flat wickets similar to that; I think you`re going to have to get used to chasing some big totals."

There have been other positives in the series against England with signs that the side are starting to gel as a unit and with solid performances from opener Shane Watson.

Experienced fast bowler Brett Lee has looked to be back at his menacing best after his recall from more than a year in the international wilderness.

Lee is one of seven players in the 15 who were in the triumphant 2007 squad and if Shaun Tait can remain fit and the mercurial Mitchell Johnson find a bit of form, the pace attack will be a fearsome prospect.

Part-time bowlers Watson, Steve Smith and David Hussey have stepped up to take key wickets in the series against England as well as being effective with the bat.

Question marks remain over the batting of Cam White, but if either Clarke or Ponting rediscover their best form then a fifth World Cup triumph cannot be discounted.

Bureau Report