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September 11, 2007
Don't expect the opening match of Group B to be a cliff-hanger. For all the talk of Twenty20 bringing teams closer together, you'd have to operate in minus numbers to bridge the gap between the top and bottom sides in the game. Though Australia have been out of action since the World Cup and Zimbabwe have recently faced South Africa, this won't be the match to spring one of the upsets that would throw the tournament open. If anything, it's the perfect start for Australia, who were given a wake-up call by South Africa in their second warm-up match; a chance to find their groove before the tougher challenges arrive.
Bat play: Australia's problem, and it's a nice one to have, is where to bat all the fierce strikers to make the most of their power. Logic would suggest that Andrew Symonds, who cracked 70 off 43 balls against New Zealand in a warm-up match, is given as many overs as possible. But Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden form one of the most successful opening pairs in 50-over cricket, while Brad Hodge is the leading run- scorer worldwide in Twenty20. And now Ricky Ponting has arrived it's a real squeeze at the top.
Zimbabwe's situation is more a case of who might be able to pull off a miracle. Tatenda Taibu's return at least offers someone of international class but he has never really been a batsman to tear attacks apart, and it could be worth asking him to open in an attempt to provide some sort of anchor. Elton Chigumbura has the power to clear the boundaries and can play a floating role depending on the game situation.
Wrecking ball: Australia only know one way to play: attack. Wickets are vital even in 20-over cricket and they will search for them with a strong pace attack. Ben Hilfenhaus, the Tasmanian quick bowler called up to replace Shaun Tait, has impressed during Australia's warm-up matches especially with his 3 for 11 against New Zealand. Brett Lee and Nathan Bracken appear set to take the new ball, so Hilfenhaus could again force Stuart Clark - who played just one match at the World Cup - to the sidelines.
There are no such luxuries for Zimbabwe, who will have to hope that a lack of pace is enough to rein in the explosive Australian batting. Gary Brent takes a senior role with his medium-pace but spin will form a large number of overs. The captain, Prosper Utseya, and left-arm spinner Shaun Williams have shown themselves to be capable performers.
Keep your eyes on: A strong wind has picked up in Cape Town so if any of the Australians are hitting with the breeze there could be some huge sixes. Symonds might fancy having a dart for the train tracks.
Shop talk: Shane Watson is Australia's biggest concern as he is still feeling the effects of the hamstring strain that forced him to delay his arrival in South Africa. If there is any doubt he won't be risked as his attempts at another international comeback are stalled. Worries over Matthew Hayden, who suffered back spasms earlier in the week, are fading after he spent two hours against a bowling machine in an indoor nets session with Ponting, who is still trying to get over his jet-lag after arriving in the country yesterday.
Zimbabwe trained enthusiastically at Newlands, but they really are like lambs to the slaughter. Barring any last-minute slips they can select from a full squad, but then the pain really could start.
Pitching it right: It's early spring in the Cape and the ground staff have had a race against time get the pitch ready after a record-breaking wet winter. The surface has come together but it is expected to be fairly slow, which can make scoring hard work. A cold front is also moving across the region and, with the match being an evening encounter, the crowd is going to need to wrap up warm or hope for plenty of boundaries to dance around to.
Australia (likely): Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist (wk), Ricky Ponting, Andrew Symonds, Mike Hussey, Michael Clarke, Brad Hogg, Brett Lee, Nathan Bracken, Ben Hilfenhaus, Mitchell Johnson
Zimbabwe (from): Prosper Utseya (capt), Gary Brent, Chamunorwa Chibhabha, Elton Chigumbura, Keith Dabengwa, Tymsen Maruma, Hamilton Masakadza, Stuart Matsikinyeri, Johnson Marumisa, Christopher Mpofu, Tawanda Mupariwa, Vusimusi Sibanda, Tatenda Taibu, Brendon Taylor, Shaun Williams.