AHMEDABAD, Feb 21 (PTI): Holders Australia commenced their title defence with an emphatic 91-run victory over Zimbabwe, after their batsmen recovered from a slow start to post 262 for six in their World Cup Group A opener at the Sardar Patel Stadium here today.
The defending champions, who did not lose a single match on their way to titles in 2003 and 2007, thus establishing a 29-match unbeaten streak in the tournament, initially rode on half centuries from opener Shane Watson (79) and vice captain Michael Clarke (58 not out) to record a competitive total on a wicket that looked slow and offered low bounce.
The strong Australian attack, led by left-arm pacer Mitchell Johnson�s four wickets, then ripped apart the heart of the Zimbabwe batting by reducing them to 44 for four in no time. The African nation could never recover from those blows.
Zimbabwe capitulated for 171 in 46.2 overs to hand the four-time winners their 26th win in head-to-head clashes in captain Ricky Ponting�s record-setting 40th Cup appearance. It was Australia�s second win in as many ties against their opponents at this venue, which also extended their unbeaten streak in World Cups to 30, the run starting in the 1999 edition in England.
Zimbabwe�s spinners put the shackles on the free-scoring Australian batsmen after Ponting opted to take first strike, but when their turn to bat came, the batsmen succumbed to the pace trio of Brett Lee, Shaun Tait and Mitchell Johnson.
The beginning of the Zimbabwe innings was encouraging as Brendan Taylor (16) and Charles Coventry (14) put on 22 runs in quick time, but the slide started once the latter departed top-edging Lee back to the bowler off an attempted pull shot.
Johnson sent back Tatendu Taibu (7) and Craig Ervine (0) with his pace and swing, while Tait breached Taylor�s defence as he tried to play him on the leg side.
Taibu edged Johnson to the lone slip, where Watson dived to his left to bring off a low catch, while Ervine was trapped leg before by the same bowler, after a Decision Review System referral by the Aussies reversed umpire Asoka de Silva�s not out decision.
It was the second time the Sri Lankan umpire was proved wrong by technology, having earlier given Australian wicketkeeper Brad Haddin not out following a leg before appeal by Zimbabwe only to have the decision reversed by the DRS.
Three quick wickets in the span of 13 balls broke the back of Zimbabwe innings, and the rest only delayed the inevitable.
Graeme Cremer scored a 51-ball 37 with the help of four fours, and Sean Williams was the second highest scorer with 28 runs.
Cremer and Prosper Utseya (24) made a belated and spirited effort to bridge the gap with an 8th wicket stand of 49, the highest for Zimbabwe.
Australia: Watson lbw b Cremer 79, Haddin lbw b Utseya 29, Ponting run out 28, Clarke not out 58, White b Mpofu 22, D Hussey b Price 14, Smith c Chakabva b Mpofu 11, Johnson not out 7. Extras: (LB-7, WD-7) 14. Total: (For six wickets in 50 overs) 262. Fall of wickets: 1-61, 2-140, 3-144, 4-207, 5-241, 6-254. Bowling: Mpofu 9-0-58-2, Price 10-0-43-1, Utseya 10-2-43-1, Cremer 10-0-41-1, Taylor 3-0-23-0, Chigumbura 2-0-18-0, Williams 6-0-29-0.
Zimbabwe: Taylor b Tait 16, Coventry c & b Lee 14, Taibu c Watson b Johnson 7, Ervine lbw b Johnson 0, Chigumbura c Haddin b Krejza 14, Williams c Watson b Tait 28, Chakabva lbw b Krejza 6, Utseya c Ponting b Hussey 24, Cremer c Haddin b Johnson 37, Price not out 5, Mpofu c Haddin b Johnson 2. Extras: (b 4, lb 9, w 3, nb 2) 18. Total: (all out; 46.2 overs) 171. Fall of wickets: 1-22, 2-40, 3-40, 4-44, 5-88, 6-96, 7-104, 8-153, 9-167, 10-171. Bowling: Tait 9-1-34-2, Lee 8-1-34-1, Johnson 9.2-2-19-4, Krejza 8-0-28-2, Watson 3-0-7-0, Smith 5-0-24-0, Hussey 4-1-12-1.