Can a Clarke-less Australia beat England in opener?
Defending champions Australia look more vulnerable than ever as they brace up against a confident England in their Champions Trophy Group A opener in Birmingham on Saturday.
Their patchy form aside, Aussies have a major worry to deal with as skipper Michael Clarke has been ruled out with a long-standing back problem.
The inspirational skipper is a crucial cog in the Australian scheme of things given that his batting form has more often than not been the difference between a win and loss for the team in the past few months.
England, on the other hand, would be looking to flourish in familiar conditions even though they endured an ODI series loss to a rather weak New Zealand just before the Champions Trophy.
But an overall assessment of their ODI stats reveal that since 2010, England have won 23 and lost only 11 of the 37 matches played at home.
A look at the team sheets gives a fair idea of just why the hosts are favourites for Saturday’s tie.
Image: Michael Clarke
Hopes rest on shoulders of Watson, Warner
Australia, a team well past its glory days, is struggling to cope with what has been a tormenting transitional phase.
The side's batting has looked brittle and this frailty was most recently exposed in the warm-up match against India last week when they were bowled out for just 65 runs while chasing a steep 309.
Given the situation, it would be absolutely vital for Australia that Clarke returns to full fitness as soon as possible.
The team would also be looking at imposing all-rounder Shane Watson to do quite a lot of the scoring after a fine IPL stint with the Rajasthan Royals.
Runs would also be expected from the likes of explosive opener David Warner and Phil Hughes but batting would still be counted as a major weakness of the Australians, which every opposition side would look to exploit.
Image: Shane Watson
Faulkner could make an impression
By comparison, their bowling line-up looks decent with some variety. Exciting young pacer James Faulkner would look to make an impression after a successful stint during which he picked up 28 wickets at an average of 15.25 for the Rajasthan Royals in the IPL.
Watson would be crucial here as well, along with Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc but the lack of a quality slower bowler could pinch the team, as they gun for their third consecutive Champions Trophy title.
Image: James Faulkner
Much is expected of England's top-order batsmen
England, in contrast, look a settled squad even though the absence of injured Kevin Pietersen could hurt them quite a bit.
A bulk of the scoring is likely to be done by the top-order trio of Ian Bell, Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott, with the likes of Joe Root and Jos Buttler expected to build on the solid starts.
The bowling line-up is impressive with the formidable pace trio of James Anderson, Steven Finn and Stuart Broad ably supported by skillful spinner Graeme Swann.
Australia: Michael Clarke (captain), Nathan Coulter-Nile, James Faulkner, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Marsh, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, Shane Watson, George Bailey, Xavier Doherty, Phillip Hughes, Clint McKay, Glenn Maxwell, Adam Voges, David Warner.
England: Alastair Cook (captain), Jonny Bairstow, Ravi Bopara. Stuart Broad, Steven Finn, Joe Root, James Tredwell, Chris Woakes, James Anderson, Ian Bell, Tim Bresnan, Jos Buttler, Eoin Morgan, Graeme Swann, Jonathan Trott.
Match starts at 3 pm (IST).
Image: Alastair Cook