Often portrayed as a stage conducive to upsets and the slaying of giants, Twenty20 threw up a bigger surprise a week back when Australia slid to 10th in the ICC rankings below Ireland.
Having tasted success and phases of overwhelming supremacy in Tests and ODIs in the course of its rich cricketing legacy, Australia somehow has failed to replicate that dominance in Twenty20.
The slump in the ICC rankings is the latest blow to a team in the throes of transition and led by a captain — George Bailey, who is slowly coming to grips with the weight of history and the burden of expectations.
The limited number of international Twenty20s in a year often means that a few results can shake-up the established order but Australia will get an immediate chance to state its views on the latest hierarchy thanks to the ICC World Twenty20 Group B match against Ireland at the R. Premadasa Stadium here on Wednesday evening.
In its recent jousts against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates, Australia lost the series 1-2. However its last-match triumph — a whopping one at that by a margin of 94 runs — showed that men like David Warner and Shane Watson, who shared a 111-run first-wicket partnership, continue to be relevant force-multipliers.
And it is a fact that is not lost on their skipper. “Watson is absolutely a potential player of the tournament,” Bailey told the media.
The seniors like Michael Hussey and Brad Hogg will also add immense value to Bailey’s plan as he hopes to wrest a cup that is missing in the trophy cabinet back home. Brett Lee’s sudden retirement may have dented the pace attack but the present crop has the ability to prosper though the pitches may not be willing allies.
The spin-web that Pakistan’s Saeed Ajmal engineered in the Middle-East will be conspicuous by its absence in the contest against Ireland and that should be a big relief to Australia.
Ireland though finds its sustenance from topping the qualifier tournament besides drawing in the feel-good factor from the Kevin O’Brien-inspired victory over England in a 50-over World Cup match at Bangalore, last year.
Recently, in the warm-up rounds, Ireland defeated Bangladesh and skipper William Porterfield has found positive cues in that verdict.
At the other extreme, Australia defeated New Zealand and lost to England. There is nothing like a loss to its historical rival to fire up Australia and that along with the skewed rankings might well stoke the fire within Bailey’s men to subdue Ireland.
The teams (from): Australia: G. Bailey (captain), S. Watson (vice-captain), D. Christian, P. Cummins, X. Doherty, B. Hilfenhaus, B. Hogg, David Hussey, Michael Hussey, C. McKay, G. Maxwell, M. Starc, M. Wade, D. Warner and C. White.
Ireland: W. Porterfield (captain), A. Cusack, G. Dockrell, T. Johnston, N. Jones, E. Joyce, T. Murtagh, Kevin O’Brien, Niall O’Brien, B. Rankin, M. Sorensen, P. Stirling, S. Thompson, A. White and G. Wilson.
Umpires: Aleem Dar and Kumar Dharmasena; Third umpire: Asad Rauf; Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle.
Match starts at 3.30 p.m.