India will be the last team to open its account at the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2019 in a clash with South Africa on Wednesday, June 5.
The Rose Bowl (also known as the Ageas Bowl) in Southampton will be abuzz as the Men in Blue try to bag a win before their most anticipated match with Pakistan.
Incidentally, India’s first match coincides with Eid-ul-Fitr.
In fact, five of India’s subsequent eight matches will be played over five weekends of the World Cup—a result of BCCI’s heavy-handedness at the ICC to boost viewership in India and, thus, increase revenue stream. Even hosts England will get to play only two matches on weekends, one of them with India.
Prior to India’s first match, five teams have played two matches each—England, South Africa, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan—and four teams—West Indies, New Zealand, Australia, and Bangladesh—have played one match each.
Knowing the opponent
South Africa, who have never won a World Cup, have had a pretty forgettable journey at the ongoing tournament so far. The team is desperate to take off after two back-to-back defeats.
With England and Bangladesh dashing their chances last week, the Proteas are left beleaguered with little margin for error in the rest of the 10-team group stage, which sees each country play nine matches.
For their third match, the South African team led by Faf du Plessis is now up against a two-time World Cup champion. Stalwart Jacques Kallis hopes to take advantage of India’s first-match rustiness in Wednesday’s game but admits that it doesn’t get any easier with Kohli’s men.
South African pace bowler Kagiso Rabada will lead the attack on India’s batting order, in the absence of Lungi Ngidi, who suffered a hamstring injury in the match against Bangladesh on Sunday, and veteran pacer Dale Steyn, who skipped the first two matches due to a shoulder injury. There is a chance he may return to the field on Wednesday.
Luckily for South Africa, batsman Hashim Amla is expected to return after suffering a head injury in the tournament opener against England, where Faf du Plessis’s side took a 104-run thrashing by the hosts.
Following the 21-run loss to Bangladesh at the Oval, the team is in a perilous position; another defeat could push it out of the tournament.
India’s game plan
India, too, has been keeping a low profile, ever since losing to New Zealand in the warm-up match by six wickets.
According to recent reports, India was supposed to play its first match on June 2 against Bangladesh, but this was changed to better suit India’s schedule in the tournament. Hari Seshasayee, writing for Qrius, notes that the odds of a team playing its first match in only the eighth match of a tournament are staggeringly low at less than 5%.
As the richest cricketing body in the world, pulling in the lion’s share of the sport’s global viewership, the BCCI is often seen throwing its weight around, and this edition of the World Cup is no exception, Seshasayee writes.
Sources have it that Virat Kohli and company are planning a pace assault in their opener against South Africa. With formidable pacer Jasprit Bumrah, top-ranked best one-day international bowler, India’s pace battery is reputed to be the strongest among the 10 competing teams.
Fellow pace bowlers Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and Mohammed Shami will support him, while wrist spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav will lend variety to the attack.
The title contender’s performance will also bank heavily on how well it adapts to seaming English conditions and its top and middle batting order’s ability to conserve wickets in the first quarter of each match.
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Even though pacers remain India’s primary weapon, one cannot discount their exemplary batting record. Kohli, in his first 50-over World Cup as captain, is the key to India’s batting, with his 10,843 runs in 227 ODI matches at an average of 59.57.
History and records
India are two-time World Cup champions, having lifted the crown in England in 1983 and then at home in 2011. They beat hosts England in the final to win the Champions Trophy in 2013 and remained unbeaten until the semi-finals in the 2015 World Cup Down Under. They were the finalists in the 2017 Champions Trophy in England.
India and South Africa have met four times in World Cup cricket earlier, where the latter had a clear edge (winning three times).
The tables turned in 2015, when India beat South Africa by a big margin of 130 runs in the last edition of the World Cup—Shikhar Dhawan scored a century and Ravichandran Ashwin claimed three wickets, thus restricting the Proteas to 177 runs.
This time, Kohli’s India will try to push South Africa towards elimination.
The entire nation and cricketing fraternity are looking forward to India’s maiden league performance, with England and Australia—the other favourites—having already registered wins in the tournament.
New Zealand remains a dark horse, while all others are underdogs, experts say.
India: Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli (c), Lokesh Rahul, M S Dhoni (wk), Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Dinesh Karthik, Vijay Shankar
South Africa: Quinton de Kock (wk), Aiden Markram, Faf du Plessis (c), David Miller, Rassie van der Dussen, Jean-Paul Duminy, Andile Phehlukwayo, Chris Morris, Kagiso Rabada, Imran Tahir, Beuran Hendricks, Dwaine Pretorius, Hashim Amla, Tabraiz Shamsi
The clash begins at 3 PM (IST) on Wednesday.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius