Four years of planning will be tested as hosts England face South Africa in the World Cup opener at the Oval on Thursday.
England’s early exit in the last edition prompted a transformation to power-hitting and a rise to the top of the ODI rankings. The Proteas, meanwhile, are flying under the radar.
Mint tells you what to look out for in the opening clash of the World Cup
England have a game plan of sustained power-hitting to maximize the potential of its batting lineup. Opener Jonny Bairstow, with new strokes in his arsenal after partnering Australia’s David Warner in the IPL, sets it off along with Jason Roy. Flexi-hitters Joe Root and skipper Eoin Morgan anchor the middle order before wicketkeeper Jos Butler and all-rounders Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali tee off for the final onslaught. The batting lineup looks awesome from its recent track record, but we’ll see how well it plays in a World Cup game with all the pressure on the hosts and favourites.
South Africa’s challenge with the ball
Some are calling him the new “whispering death", the nickname given to the great West Indian fast bowler Michael Holding for his smooth, silent run-up to the wicket before unleashing mayhem. Kagiso Rabada has all of Holding’s best attributes. Plus, he has adapted intelligently to today’s limited overs cricket, with a slower ball to go with the rasping yorker that won a game for Delhi Capitals in the IPL. He will spearhead South Africa’s pace attack, along with Lungi Ngidi, to challenge England’s power-hitters. But they will miss the old warhorse Dale Steyn, who is out of the opening game with a shoulder injury.
The battle of the leg-spinners
A key to England’s success has been the wicket-taking capabilities of leg-spinner Adil Rashid in the middle overs. He first played for England in 2009, but sat out for six years before returning to the ODI team after the 2015 World Cup. He has since taken over 120 wickets. His counterpart in the South African team, Imran Tahir, is also a late bloomer. The 40-year-old keeps getting wilier with age, winning the Purple Cap for highest wicket-taker in IPL 2019. Watch out for his battle with Butler and his wild run in celebration should he get the Englishman’s wicket.
Will Archer be on target?
Jofra Archer, the fast bowler from Barbados, became eligible to play for England only a couple of months ago. Even that took a tweak in residency rules from the England and Wales Cricket Board. But his fast-tracking into the World Cup team, replacing left-arm swing bowler David Willey, shows England’s resolve to do whatever it takes to bring the Cup home. Archer has proved a handful in Twenty20 leagues, with his yorkers, bouncers, and variations. The tonk on Indian superstar M.S. Dhoni’s helmet from an Archer zinger in this year’s IPL would have set alarm bells ringing for opposition batsmen.
Will the Oval smile on batsmen?
New Zealand’s Trent Boult blew away the Indian top order in a warm-up game a few days back at the Oval under cloud cover. The wicket is likely to be flatter for the opener. So, England’s batsmen will probably have a go even if it is cloudy. This may create opportunities for South Africa’s bowlers to cause an upset. Archer could exploit the bounce on the wicket.
Sumit Chakraberty is the author of 2019 Cricket World Cup Thinking Cap