Bengaluru, June 26: It was not long ago that five-time champions Australia weren't considered as favourites for ICC Cricket World Cup 2019.
Post-Sandpapergate and losing two of their key batsmen -- Steve Smith and David Warner-- the Kangaroos struggled against all opponents throughout 2018 and till the India series at home in early 2019.
The team kept on changing players frequently to fill the vacuum that was created by the enforced absence of Smith and Warner, but nothing was paying off.
Even Aaron Finch, who was made the ODI captain replacing Tim Paine before the South Africa series at home towards the end of last year, was in awful form and talks were on about his possible replacement in the World Cup.
However, Australia started to turn things around from their tour of India in February-March. They first won the T20I series 2-0 and then made a tremendous comeback in the ODI series which they won 3-2 after trailing 0-2. Australia then humbled Pakistan 5-0 in the next ODI series in the UAE and Finch was the man of the match for scoring two hundreds and as many fifties. They also won all three of their warm-up games before the World Cup - against the West Indies, England and Sri Lanka.
Besides the return of Warner and Smith and the form of Finch, Australia have also found their pace attack delivering in tandem. While the team had issues with the fitness of Josh Hazlewood and Jhye Richardson, they chose not to pick half-fit players as South Africa did and that has paid off for them. Mitchell Starc has already picked 19 wickets and is threatening his own best record registered in the 2015 edition while the likes of Pat Cummins (11), Marcus Stoinis (7) and Jason Behrendorff (6) are giving them a great company. Australia have one of the best records in picking early wickets (except the India and Sri Lanka games though the Lankans could not capitalise on that), thanks to their effective pace attack and that has helped their cause.
The other big advantage that the Aussies have in this tournament is either of their openers are playing long innings. Both Warner and Finch have scored two centuries each in the tournament and they have helped the Kangaroos post big totals that their strong bowling has defended well. Warner's changed approach of playing long into the 50-over innings has also helped his team irrespective of what his critics felt.
However, one must also keep in notice that five out of six wins that Australia have in this tournament came after they batted first. Australia have beaten only Afghanistan batting second while they failed in the chase against a formidable Indian bowling line-up. Hence, making Finch's side bat second could be a handy option for opponent captains winning the toss.
Now in the semifinals, Australia are in their familiar territory. This is the eight out of 12 times that the Kangaroos have made the last four and never have they lost a match in the semifinals.
At Lord's, against England, Australia proved their mettle as they get stronger in the business ends of World Cups and have the habit of winning crunch moments that fetch the title. Having the pedigree of winning five World Cups certainly sets Australia apart from the rest.