ICC World Cup 2015: Hosts look to start with a bang

There will be little love lost when arch-rivals Australia and England meet for a Valentine`s Day clash in front of an estimated crowd of more than 90,000 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground when the 2015 World Cup gets underway on Saturday.

AFP| Last Updated: Feb 13, 2015, 23:49 PM IST
ICC World Cup 2015: Hosts look to start with a bang

Sydney: There will be little love lost when arch-rivals Australia and England meet for a Valentine`s Day clash in front of an estimated crowd of more than 90,000 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground when the 2015 World Cup gets underway on Saturday.

The first match of the six-week tournament, which features 14 teams and a mammoth 49 fixtures in all, will start hours earlier when New Zealand take on Sri Lanka at Christchurch`s Hagley Oval.

The competition is being played at seven venues in Australia and seven in New Zealand. The top four in each group qualify for the quarter-finals of an event which officials predict could attract a potential global television audience of 2.5 billion.

Australia are in search of a fifth World Cup crown and England their first, having made the most recent of their three losing appearances in the final when the tournament was last staged in Australia and New Zealand in 1992.

The Australians will be overwhelming favourites to launch their 2015 campaign with a victory given they`ve beaten England in 13 of their last 15 home ODI matches.

That includes three wins in the recent tri-series culminating in a crushing 112-run success in the final.

The only uncertainty surrounding the Australian side concerns the captaincy, with George Bailey given the leadership of the 50-over team in the ongoing absence of the injured Michael Clarke.

Bailey`s World Cup could extend to a solitary match if Clarke regains full fitness -- he has managed just one score in excess of 50 in his last 14 innings.However, despite his own situation, Bailey is relishing the prospect of playing a World Cup on home soil with Australia looking to match India, the defending champions, as the only side to lift the trophy on their own turf in the tournament`s 40-year history.

"You can view that as pressure if you like, or you can view that as a wonderful opportunity and an honour," he said. "And that`s certainly the way I think we`re trying to approach it."

England, who ditched captain Alastair Cook before they set off for Australia, appear a long shot to end their World Cup drought.

But veteran seamer James Anderson said the side, now led by former Ireland batsman Eoin Morgan, was backing itself.

"I think there is a genuine belief that we can surprise a few teams," said Anderson. "We feel confident that we can beat anyone if we play our best."

Sri Lanka, losing finalists in the last two World Cups, will hope to emulate their celebrated 1996 team by lifting the trophy this time.

But they face a tricky start against a New Zealand side who, on home soil, recently defeated the Lankans 4-2 in a one-day series.

Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews said: "We`ve put everything under the carpet and we`re just going to go out there and be positive."

New Zealand, six-time semi-finalists, have been tipped for a maiden World Cup title and skipper Brendon McCullum said: "It`s a team I`m really comfortable taking into a World Cup and we give ourselves a good chance."

If Australia-England represents cricket`s oldest international rivalry, India-Pakistan is its fiercest and the two Asian nations will open their World Cup against one another in Adelaide on Sunday in a game for which tickets sold out within 20 minutes.

Pakistan, who won their only World Cup in Australia in 1992, have endured a chaotic build-up with match-winning spinner Saeed Ajmal suspended because of a suspect action and eight players already fined for breaking a curfew.

South Africa, looking to end their World Cup heartache, boast some of the world`s leading players, including captain AB de Villiers -- who, against the West Indies, recently smashed the fastest one-day international century, off just 31 balls.

West Indies won the first two World Cups in 1975 and 1979 and were runners-up in 1983 but since then, their best performance was a run to the semi-finals in 1996.

Serial giant-killers Ireland, as well as Scotland, will look to cause an upset but the Celtic nations will have to cede heroic underdog status at this tournament to Afghanistan.

Making their debut at the World Cup, it has been an incredible journey for Afghanistan whose players learnt the game as refugees in Pakistan -- a game that was once banned by the Taliban.