Johannesburg: World champions Australia returned from their hit-and-run mission to fortress Bulawayo Tuesday with their fourth successive World Cup win under their belts.
With their 10th one-day win in a row secured, the question being asked is: “who needs Shane Warne'”
When the legendary leg-spinner boarded a plane for Melbourne two weeks ago with the shame of a failed drugs test behind him, there were many who believed that he was taking his side’s World Cup hopes with him.
But four games later and a place in the Super Sixes assured, Warne — Man of the Match in the final at Lord’s four years ago and now banned for a year — is becoming a distant memory.
“It was a good win,” said skipper Ricky Ponting after his side’s seven-wicket triumph over Zimbabwe. “Our batting was good and it didn’t do us any harm to have a tough game. It will do us good.”
Australia next face Namibia at Potchefstroom on Thursday before concluding their first-round campaign against old enemy England in Port Elizabeth on Sunday.
One man determined to make the most of those games is Brad Hogg, the man who has benefitted immensely from Warne’s misery.
The left-armer took three wickets against Zimbabwe, including that of dangerman Andy Flower, and is revelling in the spotlight of being his team’s frontline slow bowler having forced his way into the World Cup squad after replacing Warne in the one-day series against England and Sri Lanka.
“I remember when Warney got his shoulder injury,” recalled the 31-year-old Hogg, a former postman.
“I was shocked. It’s not something you want to see. But I knew I was probably in with a shout although I’d prefer to be playing a game with Warney”.
“It was good that Damien Martyn and Darren Lehmann had some time in the middle and they were under a fair bit of pressure,” said Ponting of his two batsmen who enjoyed a 92-run partnership for the fourth wicket against Zimbabwe.
Lehmann hit the winning boundary to move to 56 not out, while Martyn remained unbeaten on 50. “Partnerships are the key to victory for us,” explained the captain.
Vice-captain Adam Gilchrist, meanwhile, made sure that the Aussies left Zimbabwe with diplomatic links intact despite limiting their visit to as short a time as possible.
They had arrived under the escort of a helicopter gunship in Zimbabwe’s second city and left, 30 hours later, saying all the right things.
“There were a lot of contentious issues surroundng this game and about us coming here but I’d like to say that our thoughts are with the people of Zimbabwe who are going through some very difficult times,” Gilchrist said.