India's captain Virat Kohli (right) spends time with his teammates in the nets during a training session ahead of their Cricket World Cup match against South Africa at Ageas Bowl in Southampton. (Photo: PTI)
India's captain Virat Kohli (right) spends time with his teammates in the nets during a training session ahead of their Cricket World Cup match against South Africa at Ageas Bowl in Southampton. (Photo: PTI)

ICC cricket World Cup 2019: Can India get off to a winning start

  • Will South Africa be able to resuscitate their floundering World Cup campaign with a win, or can India sink them deeper into the mire?
  • Mint takes a look at the factors that will influence the crucial encounter.

The big day is finally here. India play South Africa in their first game on the seventh day of the World Cup. Will South Africa be able to resuscitate their floundering World Cup campaign with a win, or can India sink them deeper into the mire? Mint takes a look at the factors that will influence the crucial encounter.

The trends so far

Pre-tournament expectations can only take you so far in a World Cup that has already produced the unexpected. Nobody anticipated that bouncers would blow out both South Africa and Pakistan in their opening games. The 10:30 am start to the games was supposed to help seam and swing, but bounce has been the main weapon. Spinners are starting to make their presence felt with the pitches beginning to lose their freshness. In three of the games played so far, teams batting first defended 300-plus scores, with spin playing a key role in the wins for Bangladesh against South Africa and Pakistan against England.

Advantage India or South Africa?

India have had the chance to sit back and observe seven games. Hopefully, they would have prepared for short-pitched bowling, like Pakistan did before their game with England. They are also likely to have more clarity on team selection and on whether to bat or bowl first on winning the toss. South Africa, on the other hand, have experienced the conditions first hand. They are playing their third game, so the butterflies in their stomachs would have settled. They have also had a chance to revise their plans and learn from their early mistakes.

Play the two leggies, Virat

India have to choose whether to play Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, or leave out Bhuvneshwar to include the two leg-spinners—Yuzvendra Chahal and chinaman Kuldeep Yadav. South Africa’s vulnerability to leg-spin should make the choice obvious.

South Africa’s walking wounded

Hashim Amla sat out the Bangladesh game after taking a blow on the helmet from England’s Jofra Archer. Dale Steyn, nursing a shoulder inflammation, has been ruled out of the tournament. Lungi Ngidi’s hamstring injury, which stopped him from finishing his quota of overs against Bangladesh, adds him to the list of the walking wounded in the South African camp. For now, pace spearhead Kagiso Rabada will have Chris Morris as his partner, with support from medium pace all-rounders Andile Phehlukwayo and Dwaine Pretorius.

Bat first and defend

The Rose Bowl in Southampton has been batting-friendly in ODIs—Pakistan came within 12 runs of chasing down England’s 373 in a warm-up game and, in the 2017 Champions Trophy, South Africa lost by just two runs after England scored 330. India’s main worry is the patchy form of openers Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan. However, they might still be better off setting a target to squeeze South Africa, like Bangladesh. Unlike some of the other venues, the boundaries are big in Southampton. This will help the two Indian spinners as well as South Africa’s experienced leg-spinner Imran Tahir.

Sumit Chakraberty is the author of 2019 Cricket World Cup Thinking Cap.

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