Kirsten sees recovering Australia as genuine World Cup contenders
NEW DELHI: Australia may still be dealing with the aftermath of the ball-tampering scandal but World Cup-winning coach Gary Kirsten has no doubts they will bounce back and be challenging for one-day cricket's most coveted trophy next year.
The Cape Town scandal in March rocked cricket in Australia to its core and resulted, among other punishments, in lengthy suspensions for then skipper Steve Smith and his deputy David Warner - both key limited overs batsmen.
They will have served their 12-month bans before the World Cup gets underway at the Oval on May 30 but many wonder if Australia, under an as yet unidentified captain, can defend the title they won on home soil three years ago.
"You can never count Australia out of any big tournament," South African Kirsten, who coached India to their 2011 World Cup triumph, told Reuters in an email interview.
"They are the most consistent team across big tournaments and I am sure they will be ready to compete at the next World Cup."
Australia unveiled Justin Langer as the new coach on Thursday, succeeding Darren Lehmann who stepped down despite being cleared by Cricket Australia of any wrongdoing in Cape Town.
Kirsten has also been impressed by the recent progress of Australia's Ashes protagonists, England, whose white-ball resurgence was reflected by their rise to the top spot in ODI rankings on Thursday.
"All the teams have got closer and it really is open for any team to win the big tournaments," said Kirsten.
"England are playing an aggressive and exciting brand of cricket and it has certainly put them in a great position to contend in all tournaments."
The former opener reckoned the gap between top teams has been narrowing over the last decade and next year's tournament could be one of the most open in World Cup history.
South Africa's penchant to implode at World Cups has earned them the "chokers" tag but Kirsten has no doubt that their talismanic batsman AB de Villiers will not be alone in his determination to end the barren run.
"South Africa has built a team where you have a number of match winners," said Kirsten who is working with de Villiers as the batting coach of Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Indian Premier League.
"AB is one of them and he will be doing all he can to make sure he contributes as he always does."
Kirsten plans to open an academy in the western Indian city of Pune by July and is scouting for talents in five other cities in the cricket-mad country.
"This is our first international academy and we are really excited to begin with Pune," he said.
"We will be building a state-of-the-art facility in Pune with an indoor training centre as well as outdoor facilities catering for all year.
"There will be practical work done as well as theory work where our team will look to cover aspects such as leadership, tactics, strategy and captaincy to name a few."