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Battle of pacers expected as Australia face New Zealand

Himalayan Paths

Birmingham, June 2 (IANS) An eagerly awaited clash of two formidable pace bowling line-ups is on the cards when Australia and New Zealand face off in a Group A clash of Champions Trophy cricket tournament here on Friday.

This is the first time Australia will have the option of fielding their four frontline fast bowlers in the form of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and James Pattinson in the same tournament.

New Zealand have top quality fast bowlers in Trent Boult and Tim Southee. Friday’s match could see batsmen from both teams struggling in the pace-friendly English conditions.

With the ongoing pay dispute with their board a major distraction, Australia will be aiming to shut out all off-field issues as they aim to give their campaign a winning start.

Placed in Group A alongside New Zealand, Bangladesh and England, the reigning World Cup champions face the difficult task of adjusting fast to the demands of the 50-over version of the game and to the conditions in England as they try to win the Trophy for a record third time.

The Australians will be playing One-Day Internationals (ODI) after a significant gap, having played four Test matches in India before taking part in the Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 tournament.

However, given the depth in their squad, the Australians are hot contenders to top their group and ease into the semi-finals.

With a couple of high quality pace bowling all-rounders in Marcus Stoinis and John Hastings in their ranks, the Australia bowling line=up could prove difficult to handle in the swing friendly English conditions.

Hastings and Stoinis are excellent lower-order batsmen as well and Australia captain Steve Smith may include one of them in the playing XI on Friday and field three fast bowlers.

The only selection dilemma in an otherwise settled batting line up is who amongst Glenn Maxwell and Chris Lynn will get the nod to fulfil the finisher’s role.

Australia had a poor start to their campaign in the last edition of the Champions Trophy in 2013 when they lost to England in their first match before crashing out in the group stages.

Smith is keen to avoid a repeat this time. He reiterated the importance of focusing on the job at hand and not giving too much thought to off-field issues.

“We are focusing on this tournament. These are the big tournaments and the ones you really want to win. So my focus is on that and I’ll let the CA handle everything else,” he told the media on Thursday.

Although Australia have won nine out of their last 10 encounters against New Zealand, they cannot afford to take their rivals lightly.

With a bit of rain along with heavy cloud forecast forecast for Friday, the conditions are suitable for swing and New Zealand fast bowlers Trent Boult and Tim Southee could prove to be a handful for the Australian batsmen.

Smith, wary of the Kiwi pace duo, urged his batsmen to be cautious.

“They’ve got some good new ball bowlers who can swing around and if there’s a bit there, we’ll have to be quite watchful. Quite often here, you look up and if it’s cloudy it can do a lot more.

“If it’s a nice sunny day then it’s probably going to be good for batting, and if there’s a bit of cloud about then perhaps the ball might be able to shift in the air a little bit and get a bit of assistance off the wicket,” Smith said.

The Kiwi batting line up is in fine form, having chased down a target of 357 runs on their way to a six-wicket win over Sri Lanka in their last warm-up match against Sri Lanka on May 30.

Experienced opener Martin Guptill smashed an unbeaten 116 off just 76 deliveries while Kane Wiliamson and Corey Anderson scored impressive half-centuries.

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