Australia’s defeat to Pakistan in their final group game last Saturday is a jolt the world champions possibly needed ahead of Thursday’s quarter-final match against India, one of the favourites in the ongoing 50-over ICC Cricket World Cup.

True test: Ricky Ponting’s (second from right) key weapon has been Brett Lee (third from right), who is bowling with renewed vigour

The setback could well be just the spur that Ricky Ponting’s team needs—a timely reminder that they are no longer unbeatable on the sport’s grandest stage.

Ponting is the only member from the previous World Cup defeat in 1999, ironically to the same opponents, Pakistan. He can seek inspiration from their famous turnaround at the time. After a wobbly start, they needed to win every match to avoid elimination—they went on to win the Cup.

The current Australian team is still rebuilding after the retirement of a clutch of great players—such as Adam Gilchrist, Glenn McGrath and Matthew Hayden—who took the team to a third straight World Cup triumph in the Caribbean four years ago.

“I don’t think the loss (to Pakistan) will hurt us at all," Ponting said at the post-match press conference. “I know for a fact the guys haven’t been thinking about the winning streak at all because it hasn’t been mentioned around our group or our changing rooms or meetings or anything. The fact that we’ve played a good Pakistan team and come up short will get all the guys thinking just exactly what they need to be thinking about and the way they need to play to win World Cup matches. We’ve found ourselves in some tough situations today and we weren’t good enough to get out of them. We have to learn from that, and we have to learn quickly, because if we play India in Ahmedabad, then you can guarantee the same situations are going to pop up again, and we’ll have to handle them a whole lot better than we did today," added Ponting.

Australia lost to Pakistan a day before India beat the West Indies to enter the quarter-finals.

The game against Pakistan was the only time Australia were tested in the competition’s group phase. They had easy victories over Zimbabwe, New Zealand, Kenya and Canada. Bowling-strong Australia had got the measure of Sri Lanka’s batting, restricting the hosts to 146 for 3 in 32.5 overs before the match was abandoned due to rain.

Australia’s express pace had been covering up for the side’s brittle batting in the competition. That was exposed by Pakistan, who put up a spectacular bowling performance to restrict the defending champions to 176, after they chose to bat first in the day/night game at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo.

Not surprisingly, no Australian figures in the top 10 list for most runs. Only Brad Haddin (279 runs, 12th among scorers in this World Cup), Shane Watson (265) and Michael Clarke (225) have scored in excess of 200 runs in five completed innings at the end of the league phase. Ponting himself is having a tough time with the bat, averaging 20.40, with 102 runs from five completed innings.

On the other hand, two Indians—Virender Sehwag (327) and Sachin Tendulkar (326)—are among the top 10, with Yuvraj Singh (284) at No. 11.

Australia struggled against Pakistan’s varied attack as Mohammad Hafeez put the stops on Australia with his accurate off-breaks after a superlative display of swing bowling by Umar Gul.

“We weren’t able to rotate the strike anywhere near well enough off (the bowling of) Hafeez," Ponting said of the all-rounder who took one wicket for 26 from his 10 overs. “He was the one who put the brakes on the most. When you’ve got a guy who’s doing that at one end, it does build up pressure, and generally when you build up pressure in One Day cricket is when teams can have batting collapses like we did today.

“You’ve got to give them credit for the way they bowled. We’ll certainly learn from the experience today about what you have to do to play spin bowling well and how to rotate the strike a bit better."

Australia lost their last six wickets for 42 runs, leaving their bowlers with little to defend, although Brett Lee reduced Pakistan to 98 for 4 in an inspired display. At 12 wickets, Lee is ninth overall among wicket takers in this World Cup.

Australia have been relying heavily on their trio of pace bowlers—Lee, Shaun Tait and Mitch Johnson—to pull the side through. The three have together taken 32 wickets as Australia bowled out their opposition on three occasions—Zimbabwe for 171, New Zealand for 206, and Canada for 211.

Ponting will turn again to the trio as they start afresh in the knockout stage, hoping for a fourth straight World Cup crown.

Batting vs bowling: The India-Australia match will be a test of contrasting strengths

•India’s biggest problem in this World Cup has been it’s bowling, which has given away too many runs in almost every game and, with the exception of Zaheer Khan, lacked penetration.

Australia’s deepest worry has been its inability to score freely on slow and low wickets, making Thursday’s quarterfinal match in Ahmedabad a contest between teams of contrasting strengths.

•The once all-dominating Australian batting has scored at a rate of 4.89 runs per over. Indian batsmen have scored at 5.92 runs per over in the World Cup and, despite the collapses, have never struggled to put up a decent total.

•Indian bowlers have conceded 1,505 runs till now, at a rate of 5.02 per over, while Australia’s bowlers have conceded 1,030 runs at 4.27 an over, with Brett Lee leading the way. Australia have also averaged around three wickets in the first 15 overs of the game.

•While Australia have scored the least number of runs among Test-playing nations, India have conceded the most runs among the same teams, after England.

•Captain Ricky Ponting will be looking at Indian batsmen’s weaknesses against short-pitched bowling. In Lee, Shaun Tait and Mitchell Johnson, Australia have three bowlers who can bowl with good pace and trouble the batsmen even on slow wickets.


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