Cricket: Waugh rouses Australia for fightback

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BREAKFAST WAS a sombre affair for Australia's cricketers yesterday as they contemplated their decidedly shaky World Cup future.

For all Steve Waugh's confident talk of improvement, the fact remains that the pre-tournament second favourites now have to win seven games in a row to lift the Cup.

That task, which begins with a game against Bangladesh in Durham on Thursday, will include beating South Africa in the Super Six stage and probably again at the death.

The Australian players and officials were busy yesterday calculating what could or would happen, who would play who and when, and whether they were better off with a New Zealand or West Indies victory yesterday.

Assuming Australia and West Indies both win their next games against Bangladesh and Scotland respectively, an Australian victory over Brian Lara's men at Old Trafford on 30 May would leave both teams on six points. New Zealand, with victory over Scotland and defeat against Pakistan would also have six, meaning that one of the three would miss out on run-rate.

West Indies boosted theirs by beating the Kiwis with ease at Southampton so now victory alone at Old Trafford might not be good enough for Australia and they may have to win by a distance.

It was hardly a situation they would have had in mind when they arrived in England but they started slowly against Scotland, failed to raise their game against New Zealand and, although playing far better on Sunday, still lost by 10 runs to Pakistan.

Waugh has not given it up yet, however. "Winning seven in a row is a tough ask but we are capable of doing it," the Australian captain said, adding that his players could gain some extra motivation from being written off.

"We played a lot better and we are improving. We've been a bit flat but we are on the way up. If we get through the next two games then anything can happen."

Waugh admits that the team struggled to lift themselves at the beginning of the tournament after seven months of uninterrupted cricket but says they are very much up for it now.

"We've talked about it but in the end it's up to the individual to do it when he's out in the middle," he said.

While Australia's slow start may have surprised the bookmakers, it was no more than what was expected by the former England captain Michael Atherton, who said before the competition began that he thought they were too badly hampered by their tough preparation.

"I just feel instinctively they won't win the World Cup. There is even a chance they won't make the Super Six," said Atherton, who missed the tournament with a back injury.

Despite their current predicament, however, Waugh and his team-mates will certainly not give up without a fight and everything is now building towards a monumental game against West Indies.

Meanwhile, Wasim Akram believes he can control the hot-tempered Shoaib Akhtar and extract the best out of the young pace bowler.

The experienced Pakistan captain had to throw a fatherly arm around the 23-year-old as the game against Australia at Headingley on Sunday reached boiling point.

Shoaib, currently the fastest bowler in the world and emerging as one of the most exciting players of the tournament, got into a running feud with Waugh. So much so that the match referee, Raman Subba Row, was forced to issue a "private rollicking" to the Pakistani afterwards.

Wasim handled the whole thing with kid gloves, saying: "We had to calm him down, but I can look after him."

He will need all his diplomacy to keep him in check and still get the best out of him.

Wasim admitted: "He's a fast bowler, and a very fast bowler at that.

"Yes, we have to calm him down at times but he's learning, and he's shown he is the fastest bowler in the world right now. He's improving day by day.

"He hasn't been bowling 100 per cent so far because I have been telling him to control his line and length and when that is there he will be able to bowl a lot quicker."

Shoaib got upset with Waugh after he had stopped one of his run-ups in mid-stride by claiming he was not ready. They then clashed after brushing past each other as a quick single was being taken.

Views were exchanged between Shoaib and Waugh with Michael Bevan, the other batsman, also getting involved.

Subba Row said: "There had been some shouting and heated words."

Wasim said: "The umpire had a polite word with me about him and I then spoke to him and told him to relax and leave it to me to have a go at them."

Pakistan go into their next match on Friday at Derby against New Zealand virtually assured of qualification to the next stage, and Wasim will be more than happy to see Shoaib's explosive pace in full flow again. He will certainly not want to dampen his fire as Pakistan emerge as the main rivals to South Africa for the title.

Wasim claims that their strength has come about because Pakistan - so often racked with internal politics and strife over the years - have got their act together on and off the pitch.

"We discussed when I took the captaincy that the senior players were going to be around for the next two or three years so we have to back each other up," he said.

"We have to work together. We must all try to give 100 per cent in any game, and if we do that I firmly believe we can beat any team in the world."