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27 February 201515:32 By Anand Vasu, Auckland

Australia v New Zealand Preview, Match 20, Auckland

The match between the co-hosts promises to offer fans delicious viewing, with two power-packed favourites colliding

Australia v New Zealand Preview, Match 20, Auckland - Cricket News
In the lead-up to the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, vast amounts of column inches previewed each team, talking heads congregated in television studios and Facebook timelines competed with Twitter feeds. A hysteria built slowly, where each team was dissected, each player forensically examined. One recurring question came up: would the format make qualification for the knockouts a mere formality for the big teams?

It was widely believed, or assumed even by those who should have known better, that the associate nations would not really be able to seriously threaten the established teams. The first two weeks of the tournament have shown that this was lazy thinking. Not only can the associate nations hold their own, and even beat full-member nations, they have produced the most exciting cricket of the tournament.



Even as India played two one-sided matches, against Pakistan and South Africa, and Pakistan crashed and burned against West Indies, and England were handed big losses by Australia and then New Zealand, the likes of Ireland and United Arab Emirates and Scotland and Afghanistan fought tooth and nail, games ending in the final over, with only a few wickets to spare. Ireland shaded West Indies, UAE ran Zimbabwe close, and Scotland’s heartbreaking loss to Afghanistan was more suspenseful than a shelf of Agatha Christie mysteries.

With that being the case, it’s worth changing the pre-tournament question slightly. It’s not so much about whether the associate nations can compete, but can the full-member teams match the associates when it comes to playing exciting matches?

If any game can carry such a burden, it is the one between New Zealand and Australia, two sides bringing with them red-hot streaks – neither has lost any of the last five games it has played – that will unfold in front of close to 50,000 fans at Eden Park in Auckland.

Depending on which side of the Tasman you live, the favourite to go all the way in this tournament is either New Zealand or Australia. Brendon McCullum’s captaincy has been so intimidating that oppositions have withered in New Zealand’s presence. Of course, he can afford to lead in such a manner only because of the bowling attack at his disposal. McCullum was relieved to note that Tim Southee, who bowled that remarkable spell to scalp 7 for 33 against England, had recovered from a shoulder injury sustained in practice when a stray throw hit him. This meant that New Zealand was not going to tinker with its winning combination.



For Australia, the team news was as predictable as it was ironic. The return of Michael Clarke, whose hamstring has been written about just as much as Lady Gaga’s shoes, means that George Bailey will not merely have to take off the captain’s armband, he will return to the bench. It’s tough being an Australian cricketer.

The temptation to look at the game solely through the subplot of New Zealand’s fast bowlers against Australia’s batsmen is hard to overlook. Southee, Trent Boult and Adam Milne have been so impressive, and such a joy to watch, it is with anticipation that even New Zealand fans approach the situation where their attack is up against a quality batting line-up in form.


But, Australia has more going for them than merely batting, and the inclusion of James Pattinson ahead of Josh Hazlewood tells you that pace and aggression are not going to be in short supply when it’s Australia’s turn to bowl. New Zealand’s top order, especially McCullum, has been brutal against some attacks, but whether the same flailing-rapier approach can be successfully applied against the pace of Mitchell Johnson remains to be seen.

Auckland is likely to be warm and sticky in time for the afternoon start, the forecast for showers having given way to more optimism. On match eve, a sharp burst interrupted Australia’s practice session, but they would not mind that too much. As long as the weather held on Saturday, both teams will be happy, for this match-up is too delicious to be washed away.

Squads
New Zealand: Brendon McCullum (capt), Trent Boult, Grant Elliot, Tom Latham, Martin Guptill, Mitchell McClenaghan, Nathan McCullum, Kyle Mills, Adam Milne, Daniel Vettori, Kane Williamson, Corey Anderson, Tim Southee, Luke Ronchi (wk), Ross Taylor.

Australia: Michael Clarke (capt), George Bailey, Pat Cummins, Xavier Doherty, James Faulkner, Aaron Finch, Brad Haddin (wk), Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, David Warner, Shane Watson.