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No.1 cut to size, rest lick Cup lips

Feb. 18: Yesterday it would have been a cricketing blasphemy, but today it was made official by the game’s bible. Australia is no longer the world’s best one-day team, Wisden said.

After topping the ICC one-day rankings since its introduction in October 2002, the Kangaroos have slipped to second spot.

The unthinkable happened at Wellington today when hosts New Zealand chased down the target of 337 set by Mike Hussey’s men, a day after drubbing them by 10 wickets with 23 overs to spare.

That’s four defeats in a row for the green-and-yellows, starting with the 0-2 loss of the tri-series final at home to England. So, is the rest of the cricket world spying a ray of hope just 23 days before World Cup action begins'

South African veteran Allan Donald, whose country now moves to the top spot, said in public what many would be secretly thinking. “I think it’s anybody’s Cup,” he said. “I don’t think one side is going to run away with it.”

That’s exactly what the Aussies had done in 2003, emphasising the gulf between No. 1 and No. 2. Batting first in a group game, India couldn’t make more than 125 against them and bowling first in the final, watched awe-struck as the rivals blasted 359 for 2.

Now, it’s the Aussies who get bowled out for 148 one day and watch the Kiwis score 337 the next.

To be fair, the champions are missing five key players. Captain Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist are resting, Andrew Symonds has a torn bicep, Brett Lee a bad ankle and Michael Clarke is getting his hip treated.

But opponents know that Symonds and Lee are uncertain for the Cup, too.

Even before he had learnt about Lee’s ankle, Indian coach Greg Chappell hadn’t been able to help a Donald-like comment: “Till a couple of weeks ago, most would have thought Australia were outright favourites, but Symonds’ injury has… thrown open the World Cup.”

But at Wellington, the victorious Kiwi coach dismissed suggestions that the Aussies were a spent force and said he was bracing for a backlash.

“You’d need a sledgehammer and a nuclear bomb to knock the Australians’ confidence,” John Bracewell said. “They are the best in the world; they’ve earned that right over a long, long time.”

Best or not, this time their opponents are going to the World Cup knowing that the champions are not unbeatable.

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