Ricky Ponting has declared that Australia's World Cup chances will be defined by how well Aaron Finch's team use spin bowling and also bat against it, having only recently placed fresh emphasis on this component of their ODI set-up after ignoring it for some years.
Part of Justin Langer's coaching group as an assistant for the tournament, Ponting provides enormous experience both of playing in World Cups - the 1996, 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011 editions - but also winning three in a row from 1999 to 2007. Finch, Steven Smith, David Warner, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc, as well as assistant coach Brad Haddin, were all part of the victorious team at the 2015 tournament on home soil.
That success was underpinned largely by top order runs and Starc's furiously fast, hyper-aggressive bowling, with the Australians choosing their specialist spin bowler Xavier Doherty for only one match in the entire tournament. However this time around, Adam Zampa and Nathan Lyon loom as key components of the team, while Ponting also pointed out that the proliferation of spin bowlers among the world's leading teams in the past three years have also raised the emphasis on playing spin bowling adroitly.
"The thing that will define Australia's success in the World Cup is, one, how well they bowl spin and, two, how well they play it," Ponting told The Telegraph. "That's been their Achilles' heel the last 12 or 18 months. With [Adam] Zampa bowling well now, Nathan Lyon's obviously in the squad and Glenn Maxwell's done a good job with the ball whenever he's played.
"And I think some of our middle order are probably slightly better players of spin now than they were 12 or 18 months ago. With Warner there now and Steve Smith coming back in, the middle order looks a lot better against spin bowling than it probably was."
"Australia's got a very proud history. I know that'll be something that will be spoken about within the group." Ricky Ponting
Smith and Warner have returned to Australia's set-up after 12-month bans over the ball tampering scandal in South Africa last year. Ponting acknowledged the level of criticism the pair were likely to attract from English crowds, but said it was more important to see signs that both Smith and Warner were finding form at the right time.
"They're both playing really well. Steve Smith still thinks he's not probably 100% fit just yet - but he's not far away. And Warner's been the dominant batsman in the IPL," Ponting said. "Those two coming in, obviously they're class players - they'll have their fair share of issues to deal with from the crowds and stuff when they get over there. But they're big boys. They've been there and seen it all before. I'm sure they'll be fine."
Assessing the way that a successful team would navigate the tournament, which is using a round robin and semi-finals format for the first time since the 1992 event in Australia and New Zealand, Ponting said that Finch's team could recall past Australian victories to provide inspiration and knowledge of the need to avoid peaking too early.
"I guess that's probably one of the reasons they've got me involved - having been around some successful World Cup campaigns," Ponting said. "Tournament play is a different thing, it's not just another five-game series or three-game series. This is all about a pretty long tournament of one-day cricket.
"You've got to find a way to build your way into the tournament and make sure you're playing your best cricket at the back alley. That's one thing Australian teams have always done. They've tended to play their best cricket in the World Cups and when it has mattered in the big games.
"Australia's got a very proud history. I know that'll be something that will be spoken about within the group. But it's also a chance for this current group of players to make a name for themselves on the world stage and a chance for them all to become World Cup winners as well."
As captain, Finch had faced plenty of speculation over his place during an extended run of low scores. But the team's unexpected series win in India was accompanied by the first signs that Finch was returning to batting touch, and a subsequent series win over Pakistan in the UAE brought runs for the entire top order before it was bolstered by Smith and Warner.
"The fact that Aaron Finch has just had a bit of success lately as captain and had got himself back into the runs after a pretty lean 12 months with the bat, that'll give him a lot of confidence going into this World Cup," Ponting said. "To beat India in India for him as a captain is a big feather in his cap."
"They've got a really good chance - I've been saying that for 12 months. It looks like a lot of the work that Justin and the senior players have done around the group is starting to pay off."