POOL A | Saturday 14 February | Melbourne | 05:30
Australia served one final ominous warning before their ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 opener with England by demolishing their opponents by 112-runs in the Carlton Tri-Series final in Perth. The win left Australia untouched in the tournament and justified their 2/1 price to lift the World Cup trophy come the end of March. The hosts were not even full-strength for much of the Tri-Series and injury concerns still remain. However, the Australians have perhaps the best limited overs depth in world cricket and will feel that they have the quality within the squad to go all the way. England, despite failing to oust their rivals, have improved greatly over the course of the Tri-Series and will feel optimistic about their chances.
To Win The Match
Many are saying that Australia’s chances hinge on Michael Clarke’s participation in the ICC showpiece. ‘Many’ being mainly Shane Warne. However, Clarke has only played two of Australia’s last eighteen ODI matches during a period of considerable success. Nevertheless, perennially wounded Clarke in on the brink of finding fitness in time to guide Australia through the World Cup, though it is highly unlikely that he will play any part in this match. What does measure up as a considerable blow is the potential absence of James Faulkner. He has to be viewed as the cog that makes the Australian machine function as a unit. He has the best second-innings average of any player at the World Cup and is ranked 21st on the ICC ODI batting rankings. He bats at number eight for those stats. Without Faulkner’s prowess with the bat and variations with the ball, Australia will struggle to deliver the killer blow. It seems likely that Mitchell Johnson will operate at first-change behind Mitchell Starc and either Josh Hazlewood or Pat Cummins. Johnson is happy to bowl anywhere and judging by his performance in the Tri-Series final (3/27 in seven overs), is just as effective.
Eoin Morgan, England’s new captain, has stated that the Australian side will be under more pressure than his charges coming into this fixture. This is most definitely a stretch of the imagination but England will be hopeful that the expectation of playing a home World Cup as favourites will have some detriment on their opponents’ performance. Despite having Australia 60/4 in the Tri-Series final, the Aussies found a way back to post 278/8 in fifty overs, Glenn Maxwell hammering 95, Mitchell Marsh 60 and Faulkner a 24-ball fifty. England cannot afford such situations to get away from them in this tournament. Having been about as low as a side can go under the tutelage of Alastair Cook, England are now a refreshed unit and showing significant improvements. They were too good for India over the course of the Tri-Series and the likes of James Anderson and Steven Finn are in good form with the ball. Jos Buttler, a key player lower down the order in the mould of Faulkner, seems to have the temperament for the big occasion and his form will be of utmost importance. Ian Bell has been fluent, while Moeen Ali is key to the all-round package. If he avoids rash dismissals, England can post big totals. Ravi Bopara’s horrible form is probably their major concern at present.
The MCG welcomes in Australia’s World Cup journey and few grounds have treated the hosts as well over recent years. In the past eleven ODIs at the ground, Australia have lost only twice, both to Sri Lanka. England haven’t won an ODI contest at the ground since 2007. Only one of the Tri-Series matches were played in Melbourne, Australia coasting past India’s 267 with an over to spare.
VERDICT: Australia 7/20
The Aussies are simply too strong for England at present. Australia are the complete package and are going to prove very difficult to beat at this tournament. While England have made significant steps forward following their time in Alastair Cook’s personal Hell, the truth is that they still lack quality and big match temperament in key areas. Get behind the hosts and don’t look back.