Cricket World Cup set to start in New Zealand and Australia

By Stephan ShemiltBBC Sport in Melbourne
Michael Vaughan's Cricket World Cup ones to watch
ICC Cricket World Cup
Dates: 14 February - 29 March Hosts: Australia and New Zealand
Opening games: New Zealand v Sri Lanka at 22:00 GMT on Friday and Australia v England at 03:30 GMT on Saturday
BBC coverage: Live Test Match Special radio and text commentary on every match on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra & BBC Sport website, plus desktop, tablets, mobiles and app.

The 11th Cricket World Cup is set to start, with co-hosts Australia and New Zealand both playing on the first day.

New Zealand's game against Sri Lanka gets the tournament of one-day matches under way at 22:00 GMT on Friday.

Australia meet England in front of an expected 100,000 capacity crowd at the Melbourne Cricket Ground at 03:30 GMT on Saturday.

India defend the title they won for the second time on home soil in 2011, with the final in Melbourne on 29 March.

The 14 teams competing will take part in 49 matches, of 50 overs a side, across 14 venues, followed by an estimated global audience of more than one billion people.

Students in Chennai give thumbs-up to wish the Indian cricket team luck in the World Cup
Students in Chennai give thumbs-up to wish the Indian cricket team luck in the World Cup

"The World Cup is massive because it is one of those special times when all the teams come together," former England off-spinner Graeme Swann told BBC Sport.

"There is a huge audience around the world, there is hype, and you feel the excitement as a player."

The Cricket World Cup has been described as the third biggest sporting event in the worldexternal-link after the Olympic Games and football's World Cup.

Participating nations are split into two groups of seven, with the top four in each group progressing to the quarter-finals.

Both matches on the opening day are from Group A, which also includes Bangladesh and qualifiers Scotland and Afghanistan.

India are in Group B and open their campaign against bitter rivals Pakistan in Adelaide on Sunday. Fellow Test-playing sides South Africa, West Indies and Zimbabwe are joined by Ireland and the United Arab Emirates.

Cricket World Cup finals
2011: India beat Sri Lanka. 2007: Australia beat Sri Lanka. 2003: Australia beat India. 1999: Australia beat Pakistan. 1996: Sri Lanka beat Australia.
1992: Pakistan beat England. 1987: Australia beat England. 1983: India beat West Indies. 1979: West Indies beat England. 1975: West Indies beat Australia

The India-Pakistan game could be the most-watched match in the event's history, said tournament chief executive John Harnden.

"The match sold out in 20 minutes, and when we put some further tickets on sale in November, they were literally gone in seconds," he said.

Australia start as favourites to be crowned world champions for a fifth time as they compete in their first major tournament since the death of their batsman Phillip Hughes. in November 2014.

Their first opponents are oldest rivals England - a team they have beaten in 13 of the last 15 one-day internationals games played down under.

England, who reached the final three times in the 1970s and 1980s, have failed to win a match in the knockout stages since the tournament was last held in Australia and New Zealand in 1992, but pace bowler James Anderson said his team do not feel like underdogs.

World Cup 2015: England's one-day cricket woes explained

"There is a real genuine belief that we can surprise a few teams," said the 32-year-old. "We feel confident enough that we can beat anyone if we have our day.

"In a tournament like this, it's all about qualifying for the quarter-finals, then you are only three matches away from winning the World Cup."

Previous World Cups have come in for criticism for various reasons.

In 1999, hosts England were knocked out in the group stage, while the 2003 event in South Africa, Kenya and Zimbabwe was marred by politics and security fears.

That tournament was the first to expand to 14 teams, and the subsequent competitions in the West Indies in 2007 and India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh were derided for being too long.

The 2015 edition is a similar 44-day length, but Swann believes the negatives have been overlooked in the excitement of the build-up.

"Cricket is so big in Australia and New Zealand," said Swann, who was part of the England squad in 2011.

"There is a buzz, everyone is really looking forward to it. It's going to be big."

Cricket World Cup 2015 groups
Pool A: Australia. England, New Zealand, Scotland, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka
Pool B: West Indies, South Africa, Ireland, Pakistan, India, UAE, Zimbabwe

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