Australia go in as World Cup favourites but the chasers are looking threatening.
The 43-day limited overs tournament is a drawn-out affair but it’s sure to have a bright start with some heavyweight clashes in the opening weekend.
Co-hosts New Zealand have the honour of starting the tournament when they meet Sri Lanka in Christchurch on Saturday.
Australia’s day-night clash with old foe England is on the same day in Melbourne, where a crowd of over 90,000 is expected to flock to the MCG.
The following day defending champions India meet neighbours and great rivals Pakistan at Adelaide Oval in a clash that will stop the subcontinent.
Including recent World Cup warm-up victories over India and the United Arab Emirates, Australia’s one-day winning streak is at nine matches and the co-hosts are determined to build on that considerable momentum.
“We’re there to play as well as we can, but we’re very confident going in,” opener Aaron Finch said of his side’s chances of lifting the trophy on March 29.
South Africa and New Zealand are expected to cause Darren Lehmann’s men the most trouble over the next six weeks.
The trans-Tasman battle in Auckland on February 28 will comfortably be Australia’s most challenging pool fixture.
Often considered World Cup dark horses, New Zealand loom as much more than that after winning nine of their past 14 one-dayers.
The Kiwis crushed South Africa by 134 runs in a warm-up match earlier this week, relishing their home-ground advantage.
The Proteas were missing Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn, two of their best players, but nonetheless it was a remarkably one-sided affair.
“We are not too fazed about the result. It’s about time in the middle, and overs under the belt,” said Proteas batsman JP Duminy.
“It’s nice to take wins but we are happy with where we are.”
It wasn’t the only upset during the past week, with Zimbabwe thumping Sri Lanka by eight wickets in a practice match.
India, England, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and West Indies have dished up inconsistent one-day form over the past year, but all are capable of posting an intimidating total.
“We go into this tournament with the tournament being as open as any World Cup has ever been,” ICC chief executive David Richardson said.
“Six or seven teams could probably count themselves with having a realistic chance of winning the tournament.
“We’re going to blessed with a very open tournament.”
It follows predictions that Ireland, Afghanistan, Scotland and the UAE will be far more competitive than the minnows that contested previous World Cups.
South Africa skipper AB de Villiers is favoured to be crowned player of the tournament, while India and Sri Lanka will rely heavily on star batsmen Virat Kohli and Kumar Sangakkara respectively.
Australia may be the top-ranked ODI side in the world, but de Villiers and Amla occupy spots one and two on the ICC’s batting charts.
WHO WILL LIFT THE WORLD CUP?
*$3.00 – Australia
*$3.75 – South Africa
*$5.50 – New Zealand
*$10 – India
*$10 – England
*$15 – Sri Lanka
*$21 – Pakistan
*$29 – West Indies
*$251 – Bangladesh
*$501 – Zimbabwe
*$1001 – Ireland
*$2001 – Afghanistan
*$5001 – UAE
*$5001 – Scotland
AUSTRALIA’S ROAD TO WORLD CUP GLORY
*Feb 14 v England, Melbourne
*Feb 21 v Bangladesh, Brisbane
*Feb 28 v New Zealand, Auckland
*March 4 v Afghanistan, Perth
*March 8 v Sri Lanka, Sydney
*March 14 v Scotland, Hobart
*March 20 quarter-final, Adelaide
*March 24/26 semi-final, Sydney or Auckland
*March 29 final, Melbourne
EARLY WORLD CUP FIXTURES
*Feb 14: New Zealand v Sri Lanka in Christchurch
*Feb 14: Australia v England in Melbourne
*Feb 15: South Africa v Zimbabwe in Hamilton
*Feb 15: India v Pakistan in Adelaide.
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