Cricket World Cup Preview: the Hosts

Form

Devastating. Both Australia and New Zealand have been in supreme form in 50 over cricket since the World T20 in March 2014. Australia have won twelve of their eighteen games in that period, including their last seven completed games in a row, whilst New Zealand have won nine of seventeen. Australia come to the tournament on the back of a comprehensive win in a tri-series with England and India, in which they did not lose a match. New Zealand have beaten both Sri Lanka and Pakistan in home series, impressing many pundits. Both have completed comfortable victories in their warm up games as well, New Zealand’s 134 run win over South Africa especially catching the eye.

Strengths

Australia seem to be almost the complete team, but their powerful top three probably sets themselves apart from their nearest challengers. David Warner, Aaron Finch and Shane Watson can all be relied on to get the side of to an explosive start, whilst Warner and Watson also have the Test match credentials to prove that they can reign themselves in when the situation demands. A fearsome battery of seam bowlers containing Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood will also prove more than a handful for most teams. And Steve Smith is one of the wold’s best middle order batsmen. And Glenn Maxwell and James Faulkner have proved in international cricket and T20 leagues that they are two of the most devastating late order hitters in the game. As I said, pretty complete.

New Zealand’s success is based on quality fast bowling, endless enthusiasm, indefatigable self-belief and the fact they arguably are the best fielding side ever assembled. Brendon McCullum leads them with a dashing batting style and an insatiable lust for wickets as a captain. He is persistently allowed to be so aggressive as, in Trent Boult and Tim Southee, he has the most potent new ball swing bowling combination in the tournament. They will be backed up by the wicket-taking ability of Mitchell McClenaghan and the raw speed of Adam Milne. The Black Caps also catch everything. I mean everything.

Weaknesses

The two’s weaknesses are markedly similar. Firstly, neither have a consistent, wicket-taking spinner to rely on. Both will go into the tournament relying on lower-order offspinning all-rounders as their slow bowling options, Maxwell for Australia, McCullum’s brother Nathan for New Zealand. Both are passable holding options, and often profit against a lower-order trying to rebuild after the predecessors have been blown away by the new ball, but if either side is presented with a pitch on which spin will win the game, they will struggle. Fortunately for them, this is unlikely.

Secondly, and perhaps more damagingly, is the intense pressure they will be subjected to as hosts and favourites. This is a World Cup that one of them should win, especially this Australian team, but this expectation could prove to be their downfall.

Key Player

For Australia, out of a few candidates, I am plumping for David Warner. If Warner can have a consistent tournament as an opening batsman, then Australia will continually put themselves in winning positions. ODIs have often been seen as his weakest format, a strange quirk given his imperious form in both the longer and shorter ones. His two hundreds in his last four 50 over outings, however, do hint that he is beginning to become more comfortable with the demands of the game.

For New Zealand, Brendon McCullum is the most eye-catching, but 24 year old Kane Williamson is the Blackcaps’ most important batsman. Averaging 46.26, the number 3 batsman reliably sets platforms to allow his more expressive teammates capitalise. He also chips in with handy overs of offspin and catches absolutely anything remotely near him at gully or backward point. He is maybe not as feted as his illustrious colleagues, but he will be soon.

 

Breakout Star

Both countries have exciting crops of young fast bowlers, with Australia’s Pat Cummins and New Zealand’s Adam Milne two names that will become synonymous with wickets in the coming years. Milne is the slightly quicker of the two, but Cummins is younger and has a slightly better fledgling record. Milne will probably see more action in this tournament but both will thrill audiences if given the opportunity.

 

Game to Watch

It is difficult to look any further than their clash with each other on February 28th. Both of their games with England will be great, but their game together will serve as a true indication of the strength of each side, and their prospects in the tournament as a whole. Eden Park in Auckland will be packed out and the local fans will fancy the Blackcaps’ chances.

Prediction

Both will progress easily from the group and will fancy the prospect of bowling at Scottish, Afghan, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan batting line-ups. Amongst heightening national fervour, one will be beaten in the Semi-Finals by South Africa, the other in the Final. Quite which way round this will be is dependent on their group game meeting.

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