It was the perfect opening to the World Cup, an event which before had been more a curiosity than a compelling competition. The fact that New Zealand, against so many odds, should outplay the champions, Australia, in the first match will have a profound effect on the whole contest.

That is an extract from the Herald newspaper following New Zealand's 37-run victory in the opening match of the 1992 World Cup. Twenty-three years later and New Zealand have the honour of launching the latest edition of the tournament, when they take on Sri Lanka at Hagley Oval in Christchurch, a few hours before fellow hosts Australia face England at the MCG.

However, beyond the similarity of having the first ball bowled in New Zealand is where most comparisons can end. In 1992 the match was at Eden Park, this time it's in Christchurch. Whatever the result of the contest on Saturday, it is unlikely to have a "profound effect" on the tournament - although a defeat for the hosts would test the upbeat feeling that prevails New Zealand, both from players and supporters. And many would also argue that this World Cup, for the most part, is unlikely to be a "compelling contest" although surely there is room for pre-tournament excitement, too.

The most significant difference, though, is the state that New Zealand find themselves in. It is rare, bordering on unprecedented, for them to enter a global event with such expectations. Something the rugby union team live with, but not the cricketers. The phrase 'dark horses' is often bandied around, but on this occasion that does Brendon McCullum's side a disservice. It suggests they could sneak up and surprise. No, instead they should be bracketed alongside 'favourites'.

"I don't know if we are favourites, but everyone is saying we have a good shot," Luke Ronchi said. "We have to think that way, you don't want to doubt yourself. We know we can beat any side on our day. If we perform the way we can we have a big chance."

They, along with Australia and South Africa, have been the standout teams in the lead-up period of one-day international cricket. Nine matches at home against Sri Lanka and Pakistan brought six victories - most comprehensive - and just two defeats. You can also add to that a commendable come-from-behind victory against Pakistan in the UAE when they were at far from full strength.

"We go in with no excuses, we've had a great preparation and we're ready to go," McCullum said.

It has been the development of the depth in New Zealand's squad which makes them such a compelling force going into the World Cup. In the matches over the last six weeks, they have given all their players a chance and significantly, the team has never looked weaker for any changes. The squad appears fully interchangeable, especially among the pace bowlers.

Beyond Tim Southee, the leader of the attack with white and red ball, it is difficult to find complete agreement on those who should operate alongside him. Trent Boult is a wonderfully skilful bowler, Mitchell McClenaghan was joint second fastest to 50 ODI wickets, Adam Milne is generating rare excitement as New Zealand's fastest bowler since Shane Bond and Kyle Mills brings vast experience. Then there's Corey Anderson's strapping left-armers.

Given the depth of batting possessed by most sides in this tournament, taking wickets rather than just restricting will be vital and New Zealand should be well served. Whether they know the ideal combination for the death remains a question (they are not alone in that) and the margins of victory of late have meant the pressure has not been at its greatest.

New Zealand's pace-bowling resources are as strong as they have ever been but the style of their cricket has been instilled by the man at the top of the order - captain McCullum. He does not possess a defensive thought. There were times during the matches against Sri Lanka and Pakistan when it seemed wasteful, but the belief is that when he comes off the result can be devastating and if he does not the remaining batsmen have rarely failed as a collective.

Kane Williamson is one of the form players in the world, Ross Taylor has regained his touch in recent weeks while the recall for Grant Elliott is looking a particularly shrewd selection, when it could have been viewed as a backward step as it meant Jimmy Neesham was overlooked. And Ronchi is as dynamic as they come at No. 6 or 7.

Yet while New Zealand's very recent form has been so encouraging for them, the path can be traced back much further - two years of building from when McCullum took charge of the team in a cut-throat decision that could have split New Zealand cricket down the middle. For a short while, as his predecessor Taylor took some time out, it threatened to do so. But piece by piece McCullum pulled his team together, by force of personality as well as performance.

Weak links were weeded out, tough selection decisions made and only players who fitted the mould of the side - or would buy into the ethos - were considered, the most notable example being the ultimate decision not to consider Jesse Ryder for the World Cup. The end result is that, on the eve of the tournament, New Zealand have put together what is now being considered as their finest one-day team.

But, a word of caution, too. New Zealand's batsmen have been plundering some average bowling. Without Lasith Malinga, Sri Lanka were a shadow of their best team while Pakistan were, largely, woeful during the early days of their time on the road. The value of the runs scored and confidence gained should not be written off, but they do need context.

"We are going to have some tough days at some point so we just have to make sure we remain level-headed and stay down to earth," McCullum cautioned.

When New Zealand faced a higher quality attack they lost 2-0 to South Africa last October. In consecutive matches they were 68 for 5 and 134 for 9, albeit in early-season conditions. They face England and Australia in the middle of their group stage, which will be an insightful test of the batting line-up.

First up, though, it's Sri Lanka again and Malinga's return, alone, is enough to derail any team if the yorkers are on target no matter what has gone before. But this New Zealand side should not fear anyone. An opening-day victory would certainly not be "against so many odds" like 23 years ago. This time, the country expects.

Andrew McGlashan is a senior assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo