India and hosts England have widely been considered the favourites in the run-up to the 2019 ICC World Cup. But as we’ve inched closer to the marquee event, one other team has firmly established itself as a title contender. That country, of course, is Australia. If there’s a 50-over World Cup, you don’t rule out the men in yellow. Period.

The most successful team in the tournament’s history, Australia have suffered indifferent form in One-day Internationals for the better part of the past two years. However, success in their last two ODI series, followed by the return of Steve Smith and David Warner, has provided Aaron Finch’s squad an ominous look.

The Aussies surely don’t form the most settled outfit heading into the 10-team tournament. Their batting order isn’t locked, the spin department isn’t the best in class, and their pacers, as talented as they are individually, haven’t played enough matches together in the recent past to gel as a unit. However, the sheer amount of match-winners in their ranks, along with the team’s pedigree, makes them impossible to ignore.

History at the World Cup

Choosing one particular team that’s the best in ODI cricket history is a difficult task. Clive Lloyd’s West Indies of the 70s and 80s make a fair claim for it. But as far as the greatest country to play 50-over cricket goes, there’s no denying that that honour is reserved for Australia.

Of the 11 World Cups that have been played so far, Australia have won a staggering five. They’ve even finished runners-up in two other editions. To put things in perspective, five of the ten countries competing this time around – England, South Africa, New Zealand, Bangladesh and Afghanistan – have never lifted the trophy. Australia alone have done that five times.

Their first triumph came in their fourth attempt, when Alan Border took his team all the way in 1987. Australia’s next march to the title marked the start of a stunning hat-trick. Steve Waugh led them to the trophy in 1999, and Ricky Ponting then became the second man, after Lloyd, to win two Word Cups as captain – 2003 and 2007. Finally, Michael Clarke and Co reclaimed the trophy from India in 2015. In the World Cups from 1999 to 2011, Australia even had a sensational 34-match winning streak.

Australia's history at World Cups

Edition Played-Won-Lost Summary
1975 P: 5, W: 3, L: 2 Finished runners-up, lost to West Indies in the final.
1979 P: 3, W: 1, L: 2 Knocked out in the group stage. Only victory came against Canada.
1983 P: 6, W: 2, L: 4 Knocked out in the group stage. Suffered losses against India, Zimbabwe and twice versus West Indies.
1987 P: 8, W: 7, L: 1 Emerged champions. Only loss came against India.
1992 P: 8, W: 4, L: 4 Knocked out in the group stage.
1996 P: 8, W: 5, L: 3 Finished runners-up, lost to Sri Lanka in the final.
1999 P: 10, W: 7, L: 2, T: 1 Emerged champions. Defeated Pakistan in the final. Tied with South Africa in the semis.
2003 P: 10, W: 10, L: 0 Emerged champions. Undefeated in the tournament.
2007 P: 10, W: 10, L: 0 Emerged champions. Undefeated in the tournament.
2011 P: 7, W: 4, L: 3 Lost in the quarter-final to eventual champions India.
2015 P: 9, W: 7, L: 1, N/R: 1 Emerged champions. Defeated New Zealand in the final. Only loss in the tournament also came versus the Kiwis.
L - R] Australia's World Cup-winning captains – Michael Clarke, Ricky Ponting, Steve Waugh and Alan Border [AFP / Saeed Khan]
L - R] Australia's World Cup-winning captains – Michael Clarke, Ricky Ponting, Steve Waugh and Alan Border [AFP / Saeed Khan]

Since the 2015 World Cup

As glorious as Australia’s past is, their journey from the last World Cup to the upcoming one saw them hit unchartered territories. They have played 76 ODIs in these four years, winning just 37 of them, with three ending without a result. The year 2018 was their worst in ODIs in terms of win-loss ratio. From June 2017 to March 2019, they lost 22 of the 26 ODIs they competed in, which included a first-ever seven-match losing streak.

This barren period coincided with Smith and Warner’s one-year ban from international cricket for their role in the infamous ball-tampering episode in South Africa. To make matters worse for the Aussies, they were left without the services of Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood for a lengthy spell due to injuries.

The start of this year saw Australia’s one-day side looking like a shadow of its indomitable past. They had daunting away series against India and Pakistan coming up, and were nowhere in the reckoning for a World Cup triumph. But since then, they’ve turned things around in some style.

After being 0-2 down in the five-match ODI series against India, the Aussies came back to win the remaining three matches and clinch the series. It was a big statement as they got the better of Virat Kohli and Co in their own den. That success was followed by an even more resounding series victory. Australia swept Pakistan 5-0 in the UAE to serve a clear warning ahead of the World Cup.

Smith, Warner and Starc’s return, along with captain Finch’s blazing form [561 runs in his last eight innings], has made Australia’s title defence a real possibility.

Top five batsmen since the 2015 World Cup

Player Matches [Innings] Runs [50s / 100s] Average / Strike-rate
Aaron Finch 59 [58] 2325 [14 / 7] 41.51 / 88.94
David Warner 44 [44] 2296 [7 / 10] 56.00 / 103.75
Steve Smith 49 [49] 1882 [12 / 4] 42.77 / 84.01
Glenn Maxwell 50 [45] 1333 [8 / 0] 31.73 / 117.44
Travis Head 42 [39] 1273 [10 / 1] 34.40 / 90.02

Top five bowlers since the 2015 World Cup

Player Matches [Innings] Wickets [5-fors / 4-fors] Average / Strike-rate
Pat Cummins 36 [36] 63 [1 / 5] 25.38 / 30.6
Mitchell Starc 34 [34] 62 [0 / 3] 25.59 / 29.3
Adam Zampa 44 [44] 60 [0 /1] 35.45 / 38.0
Josh Hazlewood 31 [30] 53 [2 / 0] 25.77 / 31.8
James Faulkner 25 [24] 36 [0 / 2] 31.86 / 34.4

Keys to qualifying for the semi-finals

How Australia fit Smith and Warner into the batting order may prove to be decisive for them. The team’s current eight-match winning streak in ODIs has been achieved on the back of solidity with the bat. In Finch and Usman Khawaja, they have one of the best opening pairs in world cricket. And with Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis and wicketkeeper Alex Carey in decent touch, head coach Justin Langer has more than a sweet predicament on his hands.

As well as the Australian batsmen have fared over the past couple of months, though, the fact is that the likes of Smith and Warner simply can’t be left out. Despite being away for an entire year, they both still feature among the top three in the list of highest run-getters for Australia since the last World Cup. But their inclusion brings along with it the risk of destabilizing an in-form batting unit.

Warner’s return to the top of the order is a given, and Smith, with a couple of fine knocks in practice games against New Zealand this month, has shown enough promise to reclaim his place in the middle-order. Where does that leave the rest of the batsmen in the squad? Either Khawaja or Marsh will likely face the axe, with the former’s chances of making it to the XI looking bleaker at the moment due to his recent injury during a warm-up match versus West Indies.

Another key factor in Australia making it to the semi-finals will be the performance of their spinners. They’ve included Nathan Lyon and Adam Zampa in the squad, but neither of them would instil much fear in the opposition. Zampa will most-likely be the first-choice as he’s had a decent run over the last 10 games, picking up 15 wickets. However, much of the leg-spinner’s success has come on conducive tracks in the subcontinent. How he fares on flat pitches in England remains to be seen.

In Starc, Pat Cummins – who has been incredible over the past year – Kane Richardson, Nathan Coulter-Nile and Jason Behrendorff, Australia have a world-class fast-bowling attack. If there’s even slight assistance for the quicks, this group of pacers will be handful for any batting order.

X-Factor at CWC 2019

In world cricket, there aren’t many players going around with an ‘X-factor’ quotient that’s higher than Warner’s. The left-hander, who is well equipped to win matches single-handedly on a consistent basis, has returned to top-flight cricket with a vengeance.

The 32-year-old finished this year’s Indian Premier League as the highest run-getter. He amassed 692 runs in just 12 matches for Sunrisers Hyderabad, with an average of 69.20 and a strike-rate of 143.86. His eight fifties and one century were instrumental in his team reaching the playoffs.

Although he managed just 53 runs in four practice games this month, it’s safe to say that Warner is well and truly back to his best heading into the World Cup. There’s a good chance the crowds in England are going to go after him, which is only going to spur him on. With Finch in top gear as well, Australia are sure to open with a bang.

Squad

Aaron Finch (capt), Usman Khawaja, David Warner, Steve Smith, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Alex Carey (wk), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Kane Richardson, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Jason Behrendorff, Nathan Lyon, Adam Zampa.

Fixtures

Opponent Venue Date Time
Afghanistan Bristol Country Ground Saturday, June 1 6:00 pm
West Indies Trent Bridge Thursday, June 6 3:00 pm
India The Oval Sunday, June 9 3:00 pm
Pakistan County Ground, Taunton Wednesday, June 12 3:00 pm
Sri Lanka The Oval Saturday, June 15 3:00 pm
Bangladesh Trent Bridge Thursday, June 20 3:00 pm
England Lord’s Tuesday, June 25 3:00 pm
New Zealand Lord’s Saturday, June 29 6:00 pm
South Africa Old Trafford Saturday, July 6 6:00 pm