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Australia began their pursuit of a fourth consecutive World Cup by picking up their 30th win on the trot in this competition by beating Zimbabwe by 91 runs in their tournament opener at Ahmedabad on Monday. It was a less than convincing performance by the champions as they struggled for large periods with the bat and managed to scrape together a total of just 262 from their 50 overs. Shane Watson and Michael Clarke scored contrasting half centuries to take the Aussies through to a decent score, before their bowling unit combined well to knock over Zimbabwe for just 171 in their reply. Mitchell Johnson was the pick of the bowlers, taking 4-19 from 9.2 overs to begin his World Cup campaign on a high.
The pitch at Ahmedabad didn't look anything like the others we have seen thus far at the World Cup as there was a light tinge of grass which appeared to have been well rolled in. Australia won the toss and decided to bat first but no one would have expected the subdued start we got. Openers Watson and Brad Haddin looked extra careful against Zimbabwe's bowling attack led by spinners of different classes. Ray Price opened the attack with Chris Mpofu and didn't give the Australian openers anything to work with. They gave absolutely nothing away with Mpofu conceding 13 runs from his first 5 overs and Price going for 21 from his first 7.
Watson and Haddin ruined Mpofu's figures by creaming him for 17 in his final over, but Prosper Utseya took over from the seamer and was even more frugal, going at less than 3 an over from his first 7 overs. Haddin was lucky to survive when a ball rolled off his bat and hit the stumps, but did not dislodge the bails. Utseya did finally get his man though, as he trapped the wicketkeeper batsman for 29 (from 66 balls) in front of the stumps, Zimbabwe making use of a referral after umpire Asoka De Silva had ruled in favour of Australia.
Ricky Ponting came into the middle after Haddin's fall and looked positive from the first ball, using his feet to the spinners. Australia began to up the run rate, which had been stagnating under 4 for a long time. Watson hit a few boundaries and a huge six over mid-wicket but fell shortly after to another referral, this time umpire Kettleborough being over-ruled. The opener had contributed a vital 79 from 92 balls to Australia's cause, but his innings had been one of fits and starts, lacking his usual fluency.
Ponting's innings came to a shock end for 28 when he was run out by a direct hit from the deep by Mpofu. Clarke and White took Australia above 200 before the out of form White fell for a painstaking 22. Some big hits from Hussey, Smith and Johnson raised Australia to a score of 262. Michael Clarke remained unbeaten on 58 off 55 balls ensuring that Australia didn't lose their way after their solid start.
Zimbabwe in response appeared to be making a positive start with Brendan Taylor and Charles Coventry both making their way into double figures. Coventry also hit Brett Lee for the most amazing six over point, driving the ball over the boundary off the back foot, but was all at sea to short pitched bowling. The man famous for his innings of 194 threw his wicket away when on 14 attempting to hook, a shot that just doesn't exist in his arsenal. The ball went straight up in the air and Brett Lee took an easy catch.
The Australians then went on a rampage, removing Tatenda Taibu (7), Brendan Taylor (16) and Craig Ervine (0) to leave Zimbabwe struggling at 44 for 4. Skipper Elton Chigumbura and Sean Williams doubled the score with the second best partnership of the innings, but both set batsmen fell in quick succession to leave Zimbabwe out of the game at 96 for 6.
Zimbabwe to their credit did not fold in a hurry, managing to bat through till the 47th over, taking their score on to 171 thanks to some handy contributions from Graeme Cremer (37) and Prosper Utseya (24). The pair added 49 for the 8th wicket before the latter fell to the mild off-spin of David Hussey. Australia wrapped up the contest soon thereafter, and would be happy to have gotten a good workout early in the tournament.
Despite the defeat, Zimbabwe can take plenty of positives from their performance, especially their bowling as their three lead spinners were able to get through 30 overs for just 127 runs, an accomplishment that could win them many a game against lesser opposition. For Australia, the form of Michael Clarke with the bat will certainly be heartening, though the decision to persist with Brad Haddin continues to startle with the veteran wicketkeeper hardly looking like the kind of player you would want to open the batting for you on subcontinental tracks where the likes of Mark Waugh and Matthew Hayden have made merry so often in the past.
Up next for the world champions is a vital clash against Trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand on Saturday the 26th of February. The Kiwis should pose a more potent threat, but will undoubtedly go into that game as massive underdogs. Zimbabwe on the other hand have quite a few more days off before their clash with Canada on Monday the 28th of Feb. That will be a must win game for the Africans, if they are to entertain any hopes of making it through to the knock-out rounds.
Australia: S Watson, B Haddin (wk), R Ponting (c), M Clarke, C White, D Hussey, S Smith, M Johnson, B Lee, S Tait, J Krejza.
Zimbabwe: B Taylor, C Coventry, T Taibu (wk), C Ervine, E Chigumbura (c), S Williams, P Utseya, R Chakabva, R Price, G Cremer, C Mpofu.
Australia 262/6 in 50 overs (5.24 runs per over)
S Watson 79(92) C Mpofu 2-58
M Clarke 58*(55) G Cremer 1-41
Zimbabwe 171 all out in overs (3.69 runs per over)
S Williams 28(40) M Johnson 4-19
G Cremer 37(51) J Krejza 2-28
Australia win by 91 runs
File Photograph Copyright: Barry Zee
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