The opening day of the 2015 Cricket World Cup features a titanic tussle to get the tournament up and running, when co-hosts Australia take on eternal rivals England. A potentially record crowd in excess of 90,000 is expected to be in attendance at the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the Pool A match, with both countries aiming to take a first step toward progressing from a group that also contains New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Scotland, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
For Australia, it is an opportunity to lay down an early marker and back up their tag as favorites to lift the World Cup for the fourth time in the last five editions. The team ranked No. 1 in the world in the one-day game could hardly be coming into the competition in better form, having won 11 of their last 12 ODI contests. And their recent record against England in the 50-over format provides further encouragement. Australia have won 13 of their last 15 ODIs against England on home soil.
Their preparations for their opener have not been without disruption, however. Captain Michael Clarke underwent surgery on a hamstring injury eight weeks ago and, although he returned to score 64 in a warm-up victory over the United Arab Emirates earlier this week, he will miss the clash with England. Australia’s most experienced player and the only member of the squad remaining from the victorious 2007 World Cup winning side is expected to return for his country’s second match, against Bangladesh on Feb. 21. In the meantime the captain’s role goes to George Bailey, although the 32-year-old expects that when Clarke returns he’ll lose his place in the team as well as leadership of the side.
“I don’t think I probably will [keep my place], but that’s fine,” he said at a press conference. “I think it’s great that he’s on track. I think he’s done a remarkable job to get back in time.
Still, Bailey is relishing the opportunity to play in front of a packed house at the famed MCG, and believes home support can inspire Australia to glory over the next six weeks.
“I’m just certainly looking forward to the fact that we get to enjoy some home comforts, enjoy some home support and embrace the opportunity that comes around having the World Cup at home,” he added. “There’ve been some amazing Australian sides that have won World Cups all over the world, some amazing Australian players that have never had the op to play at home You can view that as pressure, or you can view it as a wonderful opportunity and what an honor, that’s certainly the way that we’re looking to approach it.”
Australia’s first opponents also come into the World Cup with question marks over their captain. After a miserable run with the bat in ODI matches, the English Cricket Board made the still surprising decision last December to dispense with Alistair Cook as one-day captain, turning to Irish-born Eoin Morgan as his successor. But Morgan has also struggled to score runs in the buildup to the World Cup and was dismissed for a duck in Wednesday’s loss to Pakistan. That form led to some scathing criticism from outspoken former England batsman Geoffrey Boycott this week, although the comments were quickly dismissed by Morgan’s teammate James Anderson.
“Morgan is a world-class player and has been for over 100 games,” he said, according to BBC Sport. “We know how destructive he is when he's in form.”
Still, both history and current form would appear to be against England. As well as failing to reach the semifinals of the World Cup since 1992, England have failed to win a one-day series in close to a year. Yet Morgan believes that England are capable of not only upsetting the form book on Saturday but going on to win the World Cup for the first time in their history.
“Given the freedom that we are trying to play with, if we play our best cricket on Saturday, we will win,” he told the BBC earlier this week. “It's not too much of a stretch. We are more than capable of winning this World Cup. We are very dangerous, an emerging, young side with a lot of talent.”
Prediction: Australia to get an opening win.
Start time: Saturday, 10:30 p.m. EST
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