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Australia brush Zimbabwe aside

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Shane Watson

Shane Watson swings to leg during his 92-ball 79, an innings which contained eight fours and a mighty six off Graeme Cremer

Reigning champions Australia began the defence of their World Cup crown with an emphatic 91-run win over Zimbabwe in Group A.

Beaten in both their warm-up matches, Australia had reason to be disappointed with a total of 262 for six after choosing to bat first in Ahmedabad.

However, their response to a faltering batting display was to produce a hugely efficient performance with the ball, bowling Zimbabwe out for 171 with almost four overs unused.

Mitchell Johnson’s figures of 4-19 from 9.2 overs were the best amongst the bowlers on both sides, while Shaun Tait and Jason Krezja took two wickets apiece to ensure Zimbabwe never came close to threatening Australia’s total.

Zimbabwe's struggles on a typically lifeless surface served to highlight the quality of the contributions of Shane Watson, who made 79 off 92 balls at the top of the Australia order, and Michael Clarke, whose well-paced unbeaten 55 carried them to a respectable total.

Watson and Clarke were alone in scoring freely against a Zimbabwe side whose battery of spinners is likely to inconvenience some of the more established nations in this tournament.

In taking 2-58, Chris Mpufo - the only frontline Zimbabwe seamer - emerged as the most potent bowler, but Ray Price, who opened the bowling, Prosper Utseya and Graeme Cremer - spinners all - played arguably greater roles by conceding barely more than four runs an over as well as taking a wicket apiece.

Brad Haddin laboured 66 balls over his 29 at the top of the order, an innings symptomatic of Australia’s failure to dominate the slow bowlers.

Zimbabwe also excelled in the field, a display that peaked with Mpofu’s run-out of Ricky Ponting with a direct hit from deep midwicket.

Watson and Haddin may have put on 61 for the first wicket, but their alliance - broken when the latter was adjudged lbw on review pushing forward to Utseya - spanned almost 19 overs.

Jason Krezja

Jason Krezja enjoys winning an lbw verdict against Regis Chakabva, one of two wickets for the off-spinner on a typically dry surface that encouraged the slower bowlers

Ponting, too, could not buck the trend - he did not manage a boundary in making 28 off 36 deliveries - and fell the over after Watson, who mixed sound defence with the occasional cross-batted blow during his mature innings, played down the wrong line to Cremer. Again, a review was needed to overturn the original not-out verdict.

While Clarke, using his feet well, accumulated unfussily, fluency proved elusive for Cameron White before he was bowled via bottom edge aiming an unsightly heave across the line at Mpofu.

David Hussey and Steven Smith swung merrily during their brief cameos, and Clarke took the occasionally wayward Mpofu for fours either side of bringing up a run-a-ball half-century as he helped take 99 off the final 11 overs.

Having managed a couple of glorious off-side boundaries, Charles Coventry was hurried into a pull by the impressive Brett Lee, before, in the space of 13 deliveries, Johnson accounted for Tatenda Taibu and Craig Ervine either side of Tait cleaning up Brendan Taylor.

From the depths of 44 for four, Zimbabwe never recovered. Elton Chigumbura top-edged a sweep off off-spinner Krezja, Sean Williams was yorked by Tait and Regis Chakabva was lbw when he missed a pull off Krezja, whose reward for an encouraging eight-over spell was 2-36.

Utseya and Cremer ensured Zimbabwe avoided ignominy courtesy of an eighth-wicket stand worth 49, but they perished in quick succession for 24 and 37 respectively before Johnson, fittingly, wrapped up victory by locating Mpofu’s edge.

Australia captain Ponting, who was making a record 40th appearance in the World Cup, admitted his side had been made to work hard for their win.

"I thought Zimbabwe bowled particularly well on a really slow wicket. It was tough for us to get any pace on the ball," Ponting said.

"We just kept ourselves in the game, got ourselves a decent total and we knew that if we bowled well we would have enough runs. That'll be pretty much our philosophy throughout the tournament."

Opposite number Chigumbura was left to rue Zimbabwe’s disappointing efforts with the bat.

"I thought we had restricted them to a total that we wanted to chase,” he said. “I was very happy with the bowling department and, overall, our bowling and fielding were superb. But we just have to work on our batting."

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