Tim Southee and Trent Boult have earned the highest possible praise from the highest possible source in New Zealand cricket, with Richard Hadlee declaring them the country's finest ever new-ball combination. Hadlee also said the current outfit led by the "inspirational" Brendon McCullum was the best group New Zealand had ever put together for a World Cup campaign.

Hadlee should know; not only is he the best cricketer New Zealand has ever produced, he played in three World Cups himself - including a semi-final in 1983 - and watches the bowlers with the most expert of expert eyes. Only three New Zealanders have taken a five-for in a World Cup game: Hadlee in 1983, Shane Bond in 2003 and Southee last week, when he claimed 7 for 33 against England.

"I think particularly with Southee and Boult, it's our best ever new-ball combination in our history," Hadlee said. "The way those two bowlers complement each other, with the left and right arm and their various swing skills, they're wicket-taking bowlers. They've proved that successfully, particularly over the last 12 months.

"It's fair to say that they've come of age. They're at the top of their game at the moment. And they're young, they're going to be around a long time. That's good for New Zealand, because you've got to bowl sides out in all forms of the game, and that's what they're doing."

The attack has been key to New Zealand's outstanding start to the World Cup campaign, with three wins from their first three games, but their biggest clash so far will come this Saturday, when they take on Australia at Eden Park. Hadlee was speaking at a public event in Auckland, where the reception given to the New Zealand players showed how popular they are in their country.

"Australia came out here in '82, we had 44,000 at Eden Park," Hadlee said. "I think it will still be the biggest ever crowd in the history of New Zealand cricket. We might near match that on Saturday. We're starting to replicate what went on many, many years ago.

"What they're doing now, the way they're playing, the fact the country has got in behind them … They've had three very good wins. They're in a very good position on the table at the moment. Another win or a rained out game and you get to seven points and you're in a quarter-final. I think these lads are probably the best ever one-day side that we've put together in a World Cup competition."

However, much has been made of the fact that New Zealand have reached six World Cup semi-finals but are yet to win one, and they know that the knockout phase of the tournament is where the real business takes place. That is where New Zealand will need McCullum to really come to the fore, as both a leader and a calming influence on the group.

"The way that he's captained the side has been inspirational," Hadlee said. "The way that he fields and leads the side in the field, he puts his body on the line, and his batting ability as well, if he can put all three things together, the other players will follow that.

"There's probably four or five match-winners in our side, either with the ball or the bat or being an allrounder. This is probably one of the best balanced sides that we have had. The selectors have got an interesting problem in picking the XI out of the 15, because they're all good enough to play."

Strangely, given the proximity of the two nations, this will be only the third time in New Zealand's last 96 ODIs that they have faced Australia, the last two meetings having also come in ICC events. A bilateral series has not been held since 2009-10, which has prompted the boards of the two countries to put the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy up for grabs in Auckland this weekend.

"I'd like to think we should be playing a lot more, particularly contesting in 50-over cricket or even T20 cricket, the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy," Hadlee said. "I think it's a nice thing to have and for the players to play for ... There's a lot of rivalry between the two countries. At the end of the day we do love each other. We do have close relations with the economy and those sorts of things, but on the sporting field it's a bit different."

Despite his effusive praise of the current New Zealand side, Hadlee was quick to respond when asked which team would go in to this Saturday's match as favourites.

"Australia," he said. "I'm not putting pressure on our boys at all."

That horse might already have bolted.