First match between New Zealand and Aus in almost a year
The Trans-Tasman rivalry is set to resume at the VCA Stadium in Jamtha, Nagpur, when Australia take on New Zealand in the World Cup Group A encounter on Friday.
It will be the first match between the neighbours in almost a year -- with New Zealand winning the last encounter at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington last March, when Shane Bond was still playing.
The game is of added significance considering the two countries will be vying for the coveted Chappell-Hadlee Trophy during the tie -- the trophy is an annual fixture between Australia and New Zealand since 2004-05 and the match in Nagpur will be the only instance when the neighbours face-off during the year.
Members of both the families, Ian Chappell and Dayle Hadlee, will be present at the ground when the trophy is awarded.
For the record, Australia is the current holder of the trophy following their 3-2 series triumph last year. Of the six occasions the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy has been contested, the Australians won thrice, New Zealand once and two ended all square.
Image: Daniel Vettori and Ricky Pontin with the Chappell-Hadlee trophy
Photographs: Getty Images
Exciting battle on the cards
It is imperative here to remind that New Zealand's lone triumph --- a 3-0 result -- came just ahead of the 2007 World Cup, thereby denting Australia's reputation going into the event. The fact that Ricky Ponting's men went on to lift the World Cup is another matter altogether.
Coming into the match per se, both the teams will be going into the encounter after contrasting results in their respective opening fixtures.
While New Zealand were dominant in their 10-wicket win over Kenya in Chennai, Australia struggled to assert themselves completely against a resilient Zimbabwean side. The end result in Motera -- a 91-run win -- was convincing. The Australian performance wasn't.
What also makes this match a perfectly balanced affair is the fact that both the teams are coming off a not-so-impressive run of results.
The Australian side, despite managing to hold onto their No.1 ranking, lost one-day series' away in England and India last year and, more importantly, was beaten by Sri Lanka at home.
Image: Brendon McCullum and Martin Guptil after the Kenya World Cup match
Aussies hold the edge over the Kiwis
Though the comprehensive 6-1 thrashing of England in the recent Commonwealth Bank series was a confidence booster going into the World Cup, Ponting's men are yet to get into the groove, as the opener against Zimbabwe proved.
They are no longer the dominant side they used to be and their run of 25 straight wins at the World Cup is in danger of being snapped at any stage in the event.
New Zealand has fared even worse.
A shocking 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Bangladesh was followed by a not-so-shocking 5-0 whitewash in India late last year.
And a 2-3 defeat at home against Pakistan meant, the Kiwis had won only two of their last 18 ODIs (against 14 defeats, two no results).
What should worry them more, and consequently be a confidence booster for Ponting's men, is the Black Caps' overall record against the Australians -- New Zealand has won only 34 of the 124 matches contested between the two countries, with their neighbours being winners on a whopping 84 occasions.
Image: Australian players celebrate the fall of a Zimbabwe wicket
The difference in numbers is so glaring that former Australia captain Steve Waugh was once quoted as saying, 'New Zealand is our rivals in rugby. In cricket, they are our neighbours.'
Having said that, it is also imperative to mention here that despite of the glaring discrepancy in the numbers, the matches between the two neighbours have mostly been competitive and exciting, something akin to the Boris Becker - Stefan Edberg rivalry in tennis -- Becker led the head-to-head 25-10, yet the matches were always competitive.
Friday's match won't be any different.
And, with the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy at stake, besides the points, both teams will leave no stone unturned to ensure the result goes in their favour.
Image: Ponting gestures to Vettori
Photographs: Getty Images