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|January 31, 2000||
No easing upSteve Waugh
This might not be the World Cup final, but victory in this competition is still very important to us. After all, we'll be playing in front of our own fans, against one of our toughest opponents, and I've yet to be part of an Australian side that didn't want to win every competition it was involved in.
There'll be no easing off; that I can guarantee you. In terms of strategy, our main objective will be to keep playing the way we have been playing. We've only lost two of our past 23 one-day internationals, but we know that if we lose the finals series, the manner in which we played to qualify for the finals won't count for anything. We'll keep being aggressive in all aspects of our game, and try to never take the pressure off our opponents, even for a moment.
Ideally, we can win the finals in two matches, to give us a couple of days off before we head of to New Zealand. But we know Pakistan will be ultra-difficult. They'll come out playing shots, for sure, particularly at the top of their batting order - men such as Shahid Afridi, Abdur Razzaq and Azhar Mahmood. A crucial part of our preparation will be coming up with an effective game plan that counters the premeditated assault I believe will come in the first 15 overs of their innings.
Looking back on our efforts through the qualifying matches, I reckon our batting has been good, our fielding has been outstanding and our bowling has come along nicely. Shane Warne was a bit 'underdone' in Perth, coming as he was off a three-week layoff, but he'll be better for the run and could play a crucial role, given that it is my belief that Pakistan's batsmen don't handle leg spin as well as the Indians. However, unless something strange happens, Glenn McGrath, who has been in such wonderful form, will be our key bowler.
It is going to be very difficult to cut our squad down to 11, as on form everyone has earned a spot in the starting line-up. One thing we have to decide, and we're definitely in two minds at the moment, is whether we should go with three quicks plus Shane Warne or leave a paceman out and go with the extra all-rounder. It's a nice, if awkward position to be in, and we'll leave the final decision until we know exactly what the pitch and weather will do.
The Melbourne Cricket Ground wicket has been a beauty all year, and I can't see it offering a distinct advantage to either side, or to any style of bowling. It's generally been a good batting wicket, and should provide a suitable stage for a high-class encounter in game one. Sydney, though, might be different. To be honest, we're not sure how it will play. It will probably turn, as it did when Stuart MacGill was so brilliant against Pakistan on his one-day international debut, but it has been a bit 'up and down' for the quicks as well. We'll have to wait and see. But both sides are so skilful and adaptable, I'll be surprised if the best side doesn't win this series, whatever the conditions.
If there is one thing that could set us apart, it is our fielding. If we maintain the standard we have set throughout the qualifying series, and take every half chance that comes our way, it will take a mighty effort by Pakistan to defeat us.On their day, though, Pakistan can beat anyone; we're well aware of that, and I imagine they would be thinking in terms of getting some revenge for the World Cup final. However, if we stay disciplined I believe we can stifle their style of play. In our minds, the World Cup final is long gone, and we've played Pakistan four times since then for three wins.
I did notice this week that Wasim Akram suggested we might crack under pressure, which reminded me of a similar line he put forward in the lead-up to the World Cup final. On that occasion, they certainly cracked more than we did.
In regard to my own form, I could do with a few more runs and a bit more time in the middle, but I haven't had a lot of batting lately, partly because I've wanted to give everyone else a chance to get some runs. Perhaps I've forgotten about myself to some extent, but I know I'm hitting the ball pretty well. I did manage one crucial, unbeaten 81 against Pakistan in a qualifying match in Melbourne (and haven't batted much since then), and I am reassured by my performances in big matches in recent years. I'm sure I'll be okay. I enjoy the challenge of the big games, and am looking forward to what lies ahead.
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