| Australia’s Darren Lehmann during an endurance training session at the Wanderers in Johannesburg on Monday. (Reuters)
Johannesburg: The showdown between the two fastest bowlers in the business — Shoaib Akhtar and Brett Lee is expected to hog the limelight when defending champions Australia take on Pakistan in their opening World Cup match Tuesday.
Pakistan have an old axe to grind having suffered a humiliating loss to Australia in the summit clash when the two teams last met in the World Cup arena in England in 1999.
And while Australia have lived up to their world champion billing, Pakistan seem to have done nothing to get rid of their unpredictable and under-achievers’ tag.
The match offers an opportunity to Pakistan to settle scores and with Shoaib expected to go full throttle, they can eye a win.
But Australia have already put a strategy in place to tame the speed demon and also know they have an answer to the volatile Shoaib in Lee.
Both captains agreed that bowling would hold the key and whichever team excels in this department would come up trumps.
“Both sides have world class bowlers. You name the variety and it’s there,” said Australian skipper Ricky Ponting.
“Shoaib is a very dangerous bowler and we know we need to get through those tough spells,” Ponting added. Pakistan, on the other hand, have to contend with a strong Australian attack that consists the likes Glenn McGrath and Shame Warne, in addition to Lee.
Pakistan coach Richard Pybus conceded his boys would be eager to see off Warne, who ran through them in the 1999 final. “The batsmen must not only play the fast bowlers well but also tackle Shane Warne,” Pybus said.
But he hoped Warne may just be short of his peak form following the shoulder injury.
“He is a class spinner but may be short on bowling after recovering from a shoulder injury,” the coach hoped.
“The most exciting thing about this game is the fact that two of the most aggressive, varied and well-balanced bowling attacks lock horns, ” he added.
Australia can be rest assured of their batting strength despite missing the services of Waugh brothers. They will also miss the services of Darren Lehmann who is serving a five-match suspension for charges of racial abuse, and one-day specialist Michael Bevan on account of injury.
But all this will be made up by the presence of Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist, Damien Martin, Andrew Symonds and skipper Ponting himself.
Pakistan also have their share of worries, with classy opener Saeed Anwar, still nursing an injury sustained in practice last week. Pakistan captain Waqar Younis rated the 34-year-old as “50-50” to play, but with a ready-made replacement in left-hander Taufeeq Umar available, Anwar seems likely to be left out.
“He’s recovered very well but we will have a look this evening to see how he is,” said Waqar. “We have the option of Taufeeq, Shahid Afridi can also come good at the top of the order.”
Ponting said his side will leave no stones unturned to ensure a winning start for their defence. “We, like every other team, are here to win the World Cup.”
Australia: Ricky Ponting (capt.), Adam Gilchrist, Michael Bevan, Andy Bichel, Jason Gillespie, Matthew Hayden, Brad Hogg, Brett Lee, Jimmy Maher, Damien Martyn, Glenn McGrath, Andrew Symonds, Shane Warne, Shane Watson.
Pakistan: Waqar Younis (capt.), Saeed Anwar, Taufeeq Umar, Saleem Elahi, Younis Khan, Yousuf Youhana, Inzamam-ul Haq, Shahid Afridi, Abdul Razzaq, Azhar Mahmood, Wasim Akram, Rashid Latif, Mohammed Sami, Shoaib Akhtar, Saqlain Mushtaq.
Umpires: David Shepherd (Aus), Ashoka de Silva (SL). Third umpire: B.F. Bowden (NZ). Match Referee: Clive Lloyd (WI). (PTI)