Saturday can turn out to be a crucial day in the preliminary stage of the ICC Men's ODI World Cup 2023 and involves two teams in the top four and two aspiring to make it to the semifinals.
Saturday's doubleheader involving a match between traditional rivals, defending champion England and five-time winners Australia and the other pitting New Zealand against Pakistan could decide the fortunes of all four teams.
Only hosts India, with 14 points from seven wins, have secured their place in the knockout stage with three semifinal spots still up for grabs with several teams in the fray. South Africa, who are placed second with 12 points, needs one win from two matches to cement their hold on the second position.
Australia are placed third in the standings with New Zealand in fourth position, with both teams on eight points from four wins. However, Australia have a match advantage, having played six games as compared to seven by the Black Caps.
New Zealand play Pakistan in a day match at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru while England meet Australia in a day/night encounter at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad.
The focus will be on the clash in Ahmedabad between defending champions England, who need to win all of their three remaining matches to have any hope of reaching the semifinals. Australia can put distance on the chasing pack with victory over their archrivals as that would take them to 10 points with two more matches to go.
England have had a horror campaign in their defence of the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup trophy that they famously won for the first time in 2019.
Starting with a loss to New Zealand in the opening fixture in Ahmedabad, the titleholders have slumped to five defeats in six matches to be all but out of contention for a spot in the last four. They do have slim chances but even otherwise it will be a mouth-watering clash between the arch-rivals.
England have to win all of their three remaining matches convincingly enough to also boost their net run rate to a reasonable level while hoping that other results go their way to keep their faint hopes alive.
Though on current performance, bets will be in favour of Australia but form counts for little when the two traditional rivals meet and England can like their chances against an Australian outfit suddenly hit hard by a freak injury and more personal concerns.
Australia have won four on the trot to surge into third in the standings and the semifinal places though will take on their old foes without dynamic duo Glenn Maxwell and Mitchell Marsh.
Both will be missed though there will also be frustration with Maxwell after he sustained a concussion in a golf cart incident, while Marsh has returned home for personal reasons.
It means another shake-up for the Australia side that has recently accommodated the return of Travis Head, with all-rounders Cameron Green and Marcus Stoinis both putting their hands up for a recall.
England have their own concerns with fitness as well as form and are yet to find an answer for replacing pacer Reece Topley who was one of their few strong performers but has now been ruled out of the tournament.
New Zealand are also facing injury concerns though Mark Chapman (calf), Lockie Ferguson (Achilles), Jimmy Neesham (wrist) and Kane Williamson (thumb) all trained in Bengaluru on Friday. But a decision on their availability will be left until game day and likely confirmed at the toss, the New Zealand team management informed on Friday.
The Event Technical Committee of the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 on Friday approved Kyle Jamieson as a replacement for Matt Henry in the New Zealand squad.
Jamieson, who has played 13 ODIs, was named as a replacement after Henry was ruled out due to a right hamstring injury sustained during Wednesday’s match against South Africa in Pune.
The Black Caps need to snap a three-match losing streak to get their campaign back on track and improve their chances of making it to the semifinals.
Pakistan, on the other hand, have suffered four defeats in a row and can't afford to lose any more matches.
Saturday's clash will be a must-win encounter for them as a defeat to New Zealand would all but end their semifinal hopes.
New Zealand would have entered this match as a clear favourite just one week ago, but some injury concerns in the Kiwi camp and a form turnaround from Pakistan means it's difficult to determine who will emerge as the winner.
The victory over Bangladesh has revived Pakistan's hopes. Fakhar torched Bangladesh with a stylish half-century and can again be relied upon to get the Men In Green off to a fast start alongside the reliable Abdullah Shafique.
It will be interesting to see whether Pakistan include another specialist bowler against New Zealand, or continue to call on Iftikhar Ahmed to perform with the ball as he has done reasonably well over the last few games.
Pakistan will be hoping their quicks -– led by freshly crowned No.1 ranked ODI bowler Shaheen Afridi -- can put a massive dent in New Zealand's top order and this battle will go a long way in determining who comes out on top in Bengaluru.
Saturday will be a make-or-break day for these four teams in the World Cup. Will the two matches make the picture clearer?