Vol. 5 Num 990 Wed. March 14, 2007  

ICC Cricket World Cup West Indies 2007
Aussies begin title defence

Australia intend to send a powerful message to their rivals when they open their World Cup defence against minnows Scotland here on Wednesday.

Plagued by injuries to key players, the two-time defending champions lost five matches in a row last month which meant they were deposed as world number-one by South Africa for the first time since rankings were introduced five years ago.

But the Australians bounced back impressively last week by winning both of their warm-up matches, including a clinical five-wicket win over arch-foes England.

Captain Ricky Ponting stressed his team is in the Caribbean to win.

"We are here to win whoever we play. We want to win every game that we play, and that's the way we train, and we prepare," said Ponting.

Opener Matthew Hayden (toe) and middle-order batsman Michael Clarke (hip) appear to have fully recovered from injuries, while late arrival Adam Gilchrist showed early form in the warm-up match against England with an explosive 72.

In what should be a hugely one-sided contest on Wednesday, Australia can still afford to miss explosive all-rounder Andrew Symonds who is facing a race against time to recover from arm surgery for the crucial Group A match against South Africa on March 24.

The fourth team in the group is the Netherlands. The top two teams will qualify for the next round Super Eights.

Ponting is also confident his team can overcome bowling problems where Shaun Tait will be looked upon to supply the raw pace in the absence of the injured Brett Lee.

"The other day Tait stepped up in the practice game against England and took 4-33 and with the way he bowls, these conditions will be able to help him out at different times so hopefully he can step into Brett's shoes," Ponting said.

"There will be a good opportunity for Mitchell Johnson and Stuart Clark and those guys to put their hand up as well in Brett's absence. I think the beauty of our squad at the moment is our flexibility."

Scotland, who featured in the 1999 World Cup held in England, earned their second chance to play on the biggest stage by winning the ICC Trophy in Ireland in 2005.

Their coach, Peter Drinnen, realises the enormity of the task in hand, but is not ruling out an upset.

"If we can take early wickets, which I'm sure we can with the way we've been bowling, we might set a few nerves jangling and cause the likes of Australia and South Africa a few problems," he said.

"Anything can happen in a one-day match and if we get it together we are going to be very dangerous even against Australia," said the 39-year-old former Queensland wicketkeeper.

Scotland have plenty of experience in their side, with 37-year-old all-rounder Dougie Brown, who played nine one-day internationals for England, and his Warwickshire teammate Navdeep Poonia, in their ranks.

Pace bowler John Blain and all-rounder Gavin Hamilton, another former England player, are others who can be handy for their team.

The two countries have only met once before with Australia achieving a six-wicket win in the 1999 World Cup.

(from): Ricky Ponting (captain), Adam Gilchrist, Nathan Bracken, Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin, Matthew Hayden, Brad Hodge, Brad Hogg, Michael Hussey, Mitchell Johnson, Glenn McGrath, Andrew Symonds, Shaun Tait, Shane Watson, Stuart Clarke

SCOTLAND (from): Craig Wright (captain), John Blain, Dougie Brown, Gavin Hamilton, Majid Haq, Paul Hoffmann, Douglas Lockhart, Ross Lyons, Neil McCallum, Dewald Nel, Navdeep Poonia, Glenn Rogers, Colin Smith, Ryan Watson, Fraser Watts

Umpires: Steve Bucknor (West Indies) and Asoka de Silva (Sri Lanka).