Australia Vs New Zealand
Starting time: 9:30 am IST
The stage is set for the first big clash in this World Cup as the traditional rivals from Down Under are ready to take each other on in what promises to be a ripper of a match. Both Australia and New Zealand have come up trumps against lesser sides in the tournament so far and will be looking to consolidate their standing in Group A with another win.
It seems at the outset, the Aussies are clear favourites to win this encounter going by their track record against New Zealand. After all, they have beaten them 84 times and been defeated on just 34 occasions while since the last World Cup, the win:loss ratio has been 8:4.
Australia even claimed victory in the last best-of-five series they played the Kiwis in, which unfolded in March last year. But the Kiwis might be inclined to take heart from the fact that they have won the very last match played against the Aussies, victory coming comprehensively, by 51 runs on that occasion.
Another encouraging fact for the Kiwis is that their premier all-rounder Scott Styris emerged the highest run-getter in that series, with an aggregate of 199 runs and an average of 49.75 with a competitive strike rate of 87.28. In fact, he just managed to edge out Michael Hussey, who made 198 runs in total with an average just a shade under Styris' at 49.50 and an even better strike rate of 94.73.
Alas, he made the injury list just prior to the Cup and was replaced by Callum Ferguson. So New Zealand can look forward to playing a side bereft of the experience and verve of Hussey. However, another Aussie - Brad Haddin, who is very much in the World Cup squad - totalled 192 with an average of 38.40 and a strike rate of 86.87. So that's someone the Kiwis will have to be wary of.
On the bowling front, Mitchell Johnson finished in the March 2010 5-match series with a table-topping tally of 12 wickets from 5 matches at a staggering average of just 18.33.
Shane Bond who was the second most effective bowler with 9 scalps and average of 21.00, is out of the reckoning as he retired mid-2010. So he obviously won't be around to trouble the Aussies. But the next best Kiwi bowler in that series - Daniel Vettori, who finished with an average oif 24.50 - will be raring to have a go at the Kiwis' cricketing foes.
Other players that may prove key for New Zealand will be Ross Taylor (even though his form has been wavering a bit of late), Brendon McCullum, James Franklin and Jesse Ryder, all of whom bear an ominous past against Australia. Not to be forgotten is Hamish Bennett. If the rookie fast bowler continues to bowl with the speed and accuracy he used against Kenya on Sunday (against whom he took four wickets), he could cause serious problems for Australia.
Meanwhile the Aussies to watch out for include Mitchell Johnson, who is fresh from his match-winning 4/19 against Zimbabwe, Shaun Tait who backed hinm well in the same match with a couple of wickets and Shane Watson who made a fairly pacy 79 in Monday's match and also aggregated 192 in the last series against New Zealand.
As far as the World Cup warm-up games last week go, the signs are positive for Martin Guptill who made 130 and 38 against Ireland and India respectively and Jesse Ryder who pitched in with 48 and 32 in the same matches, while Daniel Vettori took 4/42 against Ireland and Southee and Oram who took two wickets a piece against India.
Meanwhile, Ponting made a decent 57 and 55, albeit in rather slow knocks, against India and South Africa, while Clarke who got a duck against the former team, notched up 73 against the latter. Brett Lee was the Aussies' most effectiove bowler, getting 3/35 against India.
So can New Zealand turn the tables on Australia on cricket's greatest stage? The answer awaits this Friday...