The Black Caps had mixed fortunes in the Champions Trophy warm-up matches, but that will all be forgotten when their first pool match starts, against World Cup final opponents Australia, this Friday at 9:30p.m. (NZT).
Australia is a solid favourite on BetFair to win this encounter in Birmingham. They are only paying $1.53 compared to $2.84 for the Black Caps.
The main reason for this is their superb bowling. Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood are both ranked in the top 5 of ODI bowlers at the moment, and they will have both Pat Cummins and James Pattinson backing them up.
Because Starc is capable of batting 8, Australia might be tempted to go with all four of them in the same side – which would make for an exceptionally fearsome ODI pace battery, one of the strongest ever. There would be no respite.
The Black Caps may have three of their best ever ODI batsmen in the top 4 – Martin Guptill, captain Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, but question marks remain over Guptill’s opening partner and the middle order.
A number of players were tried in these positions in the warm-up matches and in the preceding tri-series against Ireland and Bangladesh. The difficulty is that there were no performances that will have forced the hand of the selectors.
Guptill will open with either Luke Ronchi or Tom Latham. The desire from the brains trust might be to favour the big-hitting Ronchi, because English surfaces in recent years have tended towards very big scores.
A variety of players have been recently tried in the Black Caps middle order. Neil Broom, Corey Anderson, Jimmy Neesham, Mitchell Santner and Colin de Grandhomme are all possibilities for the middle order and allrounder slots.
The Black Caps bowling unit, however, is easy to select. The tried and true combination of Trent Boult (ranked 6th in the world for ODIs) and Tim Southee will no doubt share the new ball, and it’s likely that Mitchell McClenaghan will be in as third seamer.
McClenaghan’s T20 experience will help to lend him skills that are useful in death bowling, and he has been talked about in that role in particular. This should see him take the spot ahead of Adam Milne, who is improving rapidly but still lacks the knockout punch of the more established seamers.
The three seamers will be complimented by Mitchell Santner, whose relentless accuracy and subtle variations have seen him rise into the top 10 of ODI bowlers for the first time.
The Black Caps bowling strategy will be to take two or three poles early with the moving ball, and then to at least restrict the scoring in the middle overs with Santner and the variations of either McClenaghan or Milne.
This will lessen the potential impact of the Australians’ big middle order hitters like Chris Lynn, Travis Head, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis and Matthew Wade.
The Australian batting lineup appears to be following the general ODI zeitgeist at the moment by being packed with hitters. Any of David Warner, Aaron Finch, Lynn, Head, Maxwell or Stoinis is capable of striking at well over 100 for as long as they can stay in.
Their strategy will probably be to use Steve Smith at 3 as the fulcrum around which the other batsmen can hit. If Smith can stay in long enough then the others around him can throw the bat and Australia will post a colossal score.
Considering that 300 has been a par score in England recently even for average sides, this match between the two World Cup finalists has the potential to see 700+ runs scored.
The winner of it will have the box seat in qualifying from this group, as they will probably then only have to beat Bangladesh in order to advance to the semifinals.