Aus hold edge in Trans-Tasman clash

New Zealanders look to topple arch rivals in Group A match

Two days before bitter rivals India and Pakistan face-off in an eagerly awaited Group B clash of the Champions Trophy, Trans-Tasman foes Australia and New Zealand will light up the event by locking horns in a Group A affair here at Edgbaston on Friday.

On paper, Australia, who hammered their neighbours by seven wickets in an lop-sided final at Melbourne two years ago to claim a fifth World Cup, are the favourites for not just this match but among the top contenders for the title here. However, just like how India’s preparation has been plagued by a captain-coach row, their build-up to this marquee event has seen the players engage in a bitter pay dispute with their board.

A truce had yet to be brokered until the eve of their fixture and although coach Darren Lehmann admitted the failed talks could distract the players, skipper Steve Smith knows how to marshal his troops and get them battle ready. Smith has the opportunity to unleash his four best fast bowlers, who are all fit and playing together after a long time. Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins form a formidable quartet but it remains to be seen whether the skipper will field all four on Friday.

Smith and Lehmann will be wary of the New Zealand pace duo of Trent Boult and Tim Southee. Both are exceptional swing bowlers and the Aussies have suffered some epic failures in conditions that aid movement in the air.

Pitches in England, especially limited overs, have become more batting friendly in the recent past but the morning start and the nippy conditions could hand the team bowling first some advantage. And if New Zealand bowl first, they would be eager to have a go at David Warner, Smith and the
bevy of big-hitters in the Australian line-up.

New Zealand, who beat Australia 2-0 in the Chappell-Hadlee series earlier this year, have some concerns as well. Their batting depends heavily on the experienced trio Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor and Martin Guptill and if a couple of them have a bad day, they could be under the pump. Luke Ronchi and all-rounders like Corey Anderson and Colin de Grandhomme will have to step it up to stall Australia from making a strong opening statement.
 

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