Match preview: Australia v England

2015 World Cup

Venue

The MCG, Melbourne

Team news

The Ashes rivals are the perfect opponents to kick off the tournament in Melbourne, and the hosts will be looking forward to getting one over England once again, in front of a capacity crowd. England have had a slightly tumultuous build up, losing to Pakistan in their last warm-up, while the Aussies have been on fire. They also beat England in all three encounters in the recent tri-series, including in the final.

The hosts are without skipper Michael Clarke, as the selectors feels he's not quite ready for action, leaving George Bailey in the unenviable position of being skipper for this game and set to be dropped for the next. Skipper or drinks carrier, nothing in between. The hosts are also without all-rounder James Faulkner, who is in a race to recover from a side strain before the latter half of the event.

England have no injury worries, but will be concerned about the form of skipper Eoin Morgan. He was out for a duck against Pakistan, and suffered the ignominy of being called 'over-rated' by Geoff Boycott the day before this game. He'll need to have superb mental strength to ignore the media, and prove the ECB were right to sack Alastair Cook late last year.

Otherwise, England are set to slot Gary Ballance into the batting order after his half century in the warm up against Pakistan, meaning there's no room for all-rounder Ravi Bopara, who has failed to impress.

Last encounter

The tri-series, which included India, ended two weeks ago in Perth, where the Aussies won with ease. They only posted 278 for eight, thanks to a brisk 95 from Glenn Maxwell, but England were unable to chase that and were all out for a dismal 166. Maxwell took four wickets, while Mitch Johnson and Josh Hazlewood bagged five between them. Recent history is definitely not on England's side this time.

World Cup meetings

Their last World Cup clash was in the West Indies in 2007, where the Aussies won by seven wickets in the Super Eights. Kevin Pietersen's century went in vain as Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke's fifties ensured a successful chase of 248. They did not face each other in 2011's event.

Key players

For the hosts, there are a number of players who could be considered 'key' but few will be watched as closely as Allan Border Medal winner Steve Smith. The baby-faced assassin has been the star of the show for the Aussies for months, including as skipper in Tests and a few ODIs in Clarke's absence. In the warm up against the UAE he bagged a fifty, and in the tri-series recorded yet another ton.

England will certainly look to batsman Joe Root, who is one of a only a few players in good form. He made 85 in the last warm up, and has shown a calm temperament beyond his years over the past few months. He also has a handy bowling arm, though can chuck a few pies if concentration is lost.

Umpires

Aleem Dar and Kumar Dharmasena, Billy Bowden (3rd umpire), Jeff Crowe (match referee)

Weather

Like the other opener in Christchurch, this game could be affected by rain. Much of the morning has a high chance of drizzle, while it will clear up in the afternoon according to reports. The MCG's drainage should be good enough to prevent too much of a delay though.

Prediction

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi, oi, oi! England will have to pull out all the stops to win this, as the hosts are emotionally and practically in better nick. We reckon the men in canary yellow will come out on top.

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