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Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Regrouped Australia seek flying start to World Cup campaign

 Australia have had a rather unusual lead-up to the World Cup

Australia have had a rather unusual lead-up to the World Cup © Getty

Travis Head is not one for sweet nothings in a press conference. So, when he was asked on the eve of Australia's first-ever match against Oman about how much he knew about the opposition, he was pretty honest about little he did. You can't blame Head either. This will after all be Oman's biggest-ever international match, on the biggest stage, against potentially their most high-profile opponents. And while the Australians would have studied the customary footage out there on the Oman players, like Head put it, it will come down to actually dealing with what is in front of them on the night of Wednesday (June 5) at the Kensington Oval in Barbados.

If anything, it'll be a rare opportunity for the Australians to be in a situation where they're up against a team whose players none of them have ever come across on the field. A proper throwback even to what it used to be like when Test teams would come up against Associate nations in World Cups of a previous generation.

The cliche will be that Oman have nothing to lose and everything to gain by putting on a show against the former champions, who are desperate to start their campaign well in their bid to complete the treble. And their captain Aqib Ilyas said as much in his own impressive press conference. But for the Australians, it'll be a case of getting a bunch of seasoned players who have played a lot of cricket together to just come together one more time as they look to back up their 50-over World Cup win in November with pretty much the same group.

It'll be interesting to see how they do that after having had a rather unusual lead-up to the World Cup with many of their players having landed in the Caribbean only days out from the opening game. With the washout on Tuesday, their final optional training session was also called off, meaning that only four of their players would have had more than a single hit in the net before they brace up for Oman.

As for Oman, like Ilyas put it, after having run Namibia very close and lost in the Super Over, this will be their chance to redeem themselves in a match, regardless of the result, that will go down in their history as being very special.

With England and Scotland having been forced to share the points after their match was abandoned, Group B already has an interesting look, and this will be a chance for Australia to put real pressure on their arch-rivals by getting off to a flying start and making Saturday's clash between the two a high-stake match for Jos Buttler and his team.

When: Australia vs Oman, June 5, 08.30 PM Local, 06.00 am IST (June 6), 10.30 am (June 6) AEST

Where: Kensington Oval, Bridgetown, Barbados

What to expect: After having sat through the wet season play its part to perfection on Tuesday as England and Scotland kept coming and going before their match ended up in an official damp squib, there would be concerns over every game that will be played in Barbados for the remainder of the tournament. But the forecast is a lot better for tonight and even if it does rain, it'll be too brief to impact the match.

The pitch has been a talking point ever since the Oman spinners strangled the Namibians in what seemed like a paltry run-chase. And Ilyas has already warned the Aussies that it could be very difficult for them in case it plays the way it did in the opening match here. But the Australians are bracing up for it.

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Team Watch

Australia

The big selection topic for the Aussies is how they fit in a second specialist spinner in Ashton Agar, even if Glenn Maxwell is considered a specialist, and rightfully so, in the shorter formats. And based on the attention the left-arm spinner has received in the last few days, it's likely that he'll start ahead of one of the senior fast bowlers. It remains to be seen if that's the way they go, and if so, which one of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood is rested early on in the tournament. It also helps that Mitch Marsh is back to bowling again, at least in the nets for now.

Tactics & Matchups: It was interesting listening to Travis Head talk about his experiences in the IPL and how he got to play the style of cricket that Australia want to with the Sunrisers Hyderabad. He'll have a similarly aggressive left-handed partner at the other end at the top of the order, and you wonder if Australia at least start off very aggressively, despite all the talk of the conditions in North America not seemingly suited to that style of play.

Probable XI:Travis Head, David Warner, Mitchell Marsh (c), Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Tim David, Matthew Wade (wk), Pat Cummins/Ashton Agar, Mitchell Starc, Adam Zampa, Josh Hazlewood

Oman

Ilyas did point out that he was prepared to stick to the same bowling attack as the last game, considering how impressive they were in holding Namibia at bay. He also made a special mention of Bilal Khan, despite having been taken apart by David Wiese in the Super Over, and how the team trusted him blindly to be their key bowler.

Probable XI:Kashyap Prajapati, Naseem Khushi (wk), Aqib Ilyas (c), Zeeshan Maqsood, Khalid Kail, Ayaan Khan, Mohammad Nadeem, Mehran Khan, Shakeel Ahmed, Kaleemullah, Bilal Khan

Did you know?

- David Warner needs 22 runs to go past Aaron Finch (3120) as Australia's leading run-getter in T20Is

- Adam Zampa is eight wickets away from becoming the first Australia bowler to reach the 100 wicket milestone in T20Is

What they said

"I guess we play so much One day, I guess the one day World Cup didn't really feel like a World Cup until we get down to the business end of it. So a little bit the same here. You want to be winning every game. You want to be peaking at the right time. So for us, we start tomorrow, but also we want to do the right things, get the super eights and be peaking in the back end" - Travis Head

"It is a good experience for the team and hopefully all the big names, all the big things, they are outside the field. Once you step into the field, there is no big name, there is no one bigger than you at the field. So yeah, it's another game for us and we don't think that we are going to play someone, something extraordinary. It's a game, we have to take it as a game" - Aqib Ilyas

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