Ahmedabad: Match Facts
February 21, Ahmedabad
Start time 14:30 local time (09:00 GMT)
Australia enter uncharted territory as they open their tenth World Cup campaign at Motera in Ahmedabad. For the first time in a cricketing generation, they come into the competition without the favourites tag to weigh them down, and while the expectations of their fans will still be high, a fourth consecutive world title seems a long way off. The Zimbabweans, too, stand at the brink of a new era. A group roundly written off for half a decade - and rightly so - is now a rapidly maturing unit, fully aware of its strengths and how to play to them.
While they are clearly no longer the world-beaters of old, Australia remain one of the best limited-overs outfits in world cricket. They left the Ashes in England's hands but tempered that disappointment with a 6-1 trouncing in the one-day series that followed and have an enviable record of 23 consecutive wins in World Cup matches since their semi-final tie against South Africa in 1999. They were well short of their best in their two warm-ups against India and South Africa, but Zimbabwe will be softer targets and haven't beaten Australia in a full one-day international since their famous win at Trent Bridge in 1983.
All the same, the Zimbabwe side Australia will meet in Ahmedabad has a different complexion to the one that was thrashed 3-0 in their last bilateral series way back in May 2004. A lot of the names on the Zimbabwe team sheet are the same, but the attitude in the team camp is completely different, and they will also be buoyed by the fact that their most recent confrontations against Australia have both resulted in wins. They triumphed on a rainy night at Newlands in the World Twenty20 in 2007 and then edged a closely-fought encounter in the warm-ups to the 2010 competition in the Caribbean.
Those results will have pricked more than just Aussie pride, and where once they would have floated into this match surrounded by an impenetrable aura, now they will be respected but not feared. Ricky Ponting's men have ample firepower to blow Zimbabwe away with both bat and ball, but if they're not at their best the Zimbabweans have a couple of emerging stars of their own who could at least ensure a competitive match. Zimbabwe are one of the better 'minnow' sides at this tournament, and with the ICC seemingly set on expelling Associate nations from the World Cup altogether in the future, a spirited performance from them would at least show that the smaller teams are also capable of playing entertaining cricket.
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Pitch and conditions
While the pitch has a slightly grassy look to it, plenty of that is made up of grass shavings that have been rolled into it so it is not as green as it appears. Recent history suggests that conditions could favour the batsmen - South Africa racked up 365 for 2 here a year ago, with centuries for Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers. A steaming hot day should be followed by a cool, clear night, and while dew shouldn't be a major factor, it could play some part in the second innings.
Watch out for…
Zimbabwe's batsmen will be unaccustomed to facing a bowler of Shaun Tait's searing pace, and if he gets past the top order the soft underbelly of the middle order could easily be opened up. In England last year, he hit 160kph and if he even gets near that he'll be too much for the Zimbabweans. A menacing presence with both the new and old ball, he's been in the wickets recently too, taking 3 for 48 against England at the WACA to cap Australia's resounding series win.
After a quiet couple of months, Elton Chigumbura seems to be getting back to his effervescent best - with the bat at least - and he cracked a 81-ball 103 against Ireland during Zimbabwe's warm-ups. There's also something about competing against Australia that seems to bring out the best in him: as an 18-year-old in his sixth ODI against an attack containing Glenn McGrath and Shane Watson, he top-scored with 77, and at the World Twenty20 warm-ups in 2010 he cracked 76 from just 35 balls against them to set up a one-run win.
Australia have remained tight-lipped on a possible playing XI, but they'll be looking to stamp their authority early on this World Cup and will be loathe to experiment despite the relative weakness of the opposition. That means Callum Ferguson, Tim Paine and perhaps Doug Bollinger will sit out, while Jason Krezja's position will depend on their reading of the pitch. John Hastings is more likely to find his way into the starting line-up.
Australia (probable): 1 Shane Watson, 2 Brad Haddin (wk), 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Clarke, 5 David Hussey, 6 Cameron White, 7 Steve Smith, 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 John Hastings, 10 Brett Lee, 11 Shaun Tait.
The main questions for the Zimbabweans revolve around their top order. Charles Coventry was tried as an opening partner for Brendan Taylor during their warm-ups, with limited success, but it's unlikely he'll make way for the only other specialist opening batsman in the squad - Terry Duffin. The bowling line-up is sure to have an emphasis on spin, while the greater dynamism of Sean Williams' batting means he'll probably sneak in ahead of offspinning allrounder Greg Lamb.
Zimbabwe (probable): 1 Brendan Taylor, 2 Charles Coventry, 3 Regis Chakabva, 4 Tatenda Taibu (wk), 5 Craig Ervine, 6 Sean Williams, 7 Elton Chigumbura (capt), 8 Prosper Utseya, 9 Graeme Cremer, 10 Ray Price, 11 Chris Mpofu.
Try picking the XIs for tomorrow's game by playing Team Selector.
Stats and trivia
* The highest total at Motera came in the previous match played there, Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers putting on an unbeaten 173 for the third wicket as South Africa reached 365 for 2. There have been five other totals over 300 at the ground, all of which have come since 2000.
* A couple of the Zimbabweans won't have happy memories of their last trip to this ground. At the Champions Trophy in 2006, they came up against West Indies here and were bowled out for 85, losing by nine wickets.
* In 27 ODIs against Zimbabwe, Australia have lost just once - and that was in the first official match between the two sides.
* Taylor has been in terrific form in the last 18 months, and he'll also draw confidence from his past record against Australia: he made consecutive half-centuries as an 18-year-old in his first two games against an Australian attack including the likes of McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Michael Kasprowicz.
* Ponting will be making a record 40th World Cup appearance, moving ahead of McGrath (39) and pulling away from Sanath Jayasuriya and Wasim Akram (both 38).
"The pitch is a massive part of the equation. But if you have a bowler like Tait bowling around 160 kmh at the batsmen's toes, it doesn't matter where you are playing. It is still going to hit the batsmen on the full."
Brett Lee believes sheer pace alone could be enough to get past the batsmen in Ahmedabad
"If we play confidently, play our best cricket and Australia don't, then we may have a chance. Let's be honest, if both sides play their best cricket, it's very likely that we'll lose."
Zimbabwe coach Alan Butcher is realistic about his team's chances of causing an upset in their opening game