Cape Town - Legendary leg-spinner Shane Warne has tipped Australia to defend their Cricket World Cup title in England and Wales after their recent upturn in form.
The Aussies are on an eight-match winning streak in one-day internationals after series wins over India and Pakistan. Meanwhile, Steve Smith and David Warner have returned from their one-year bans for ball tampering to bolster the side.
Smith, in particular, looks to be in fine form heading in to the showpiece, having registered scores of 81, 91, 76 and 116 in the national team's last four warm-up games. That century came off 102 balls in the victory over pre-tournament favourites and hosts England in Southampton on Saturday.
And Warne believes Smith is a 'huge player' and his and Warner's return make Justin Langer's side an altogether different proposition.
"He (Smith) is a huge player. If you look back at the time in March last year and you say who were the top five players in the world, you would say Kohli, AB de Villiers, Steve Smith, David Warner and Kane Williamson. So Australia had two of the top five players and to lose them was a big loss," he said.
Warne believes all this in mind coupled with the Aussies' big-match temperament, highlighted by having won four of the last six tournaments, stands them in good stead although he still feels England and India deserve their tag as pre-tournament favourites.
"I think everybody wrote Australia off because they were pretty ordinary and played some poor cricket over the last 12 months, but over the last couple of months, the ODI team has found its belief. They have started to think like all the Aussie sides of yesteryears and they think they can win it from anywhere. And you can't manufacture that. You have to do it a few times," Warne told IANS.
"I think going into the World Cup, India and England have to be the favourites because they have played the best cricket in recent times. But if you look back at the history of how Australia performed at World Cups, they won the last World Cup and have won 4 of the last 6 tournaments so they enjoy the big tournament and I believe they can win the World Cup and I think they will win the World Cup.
"However, they have to get past a very strong India and England side. If you ask me who are the favourites, it is India and England, but I just think Australia have come back together at the right time and you put Warner and Smith in that mix, it is suddenly looking a very good side."
Australia begin their 2019 World Cup campaign against Afghanistan in Bristol on June 1.