#ICC2019: Seven days into the tournament, India will finally open their campaign in the ICC World Cup 2019 against South Africa on Wednesday, 5 June, in Southampton.
While India is yet to play a match in the competition, South Africa have got off to the worst start possible. After losing the opener to England, they went down to Bangladesh in a surprise result.
South Africa will be looking to bring their campaign back on track, while India will love to have a winning start to their campaign.
The Proteas might be plagued by injuries but are still not devoid of the ‘X-factor’. India, too, will depend on their star cricketers to see them through. But it will be the face-offs between key players from both sides that will determine the outcome.
Here’s a look at the key battles that might end up defining the India vs South Africa tie:
Virat Kohli vs Kagiso Rabada
Indian skipper Virat Kohli’s battle against Africa’s lead pacer Kagiso Rabada can arguably be dubbed as one among equals. A face-off between the duo is surely one to watch out for!
Rabada’s recent ‘immature’ jibe against Kohli is sure to work as a catalyst when the two sides meet on Wednesday.
Kohli is the mainstay of the Indian batting order while Rabada will be spearheading the South African bowling attack, which has been bruised and battered after two successive losses in the World Cup.
Though Kohli is yet to find his form in England. After a forgettable show against New Zealand in the first warm-up, Kohli did middle the bowl against Bangladesh and looked in good touch for his 47.
Similarly, Rabada is yet to make a mark in the tournament. Against Bangladesh, he went wicket-less, after picking two against England. But Rabada, just like Kohli, is a big match player and knows when to up the ante.
If Kohli’s batting trumps Rabada’s pace, you can be assured half the battle is won for India. Meanwhile, if Rabada is successful in seeing Kohli’s back early in the match, it would be advantage South Africa.
In the 11 encounters between the duo so far, Kohli holds a massive advantage. Rabada has gotten the better off Kohli only on two occasions.
But in IPL 2019, Rabada did create a problem or two for Kohli with his straight bouncers – something which he can put to good use again on Wednesday.
Imran Tahir vs MS Dhoni
South African leggie Imran Tahir has been in golden touch since the IPL. In England, too, he has had a good start. His side might not be playing up to the mark at the moment but that hasn’t affected Tahir’s bowling.
Tahir, a wily customer, can stir up problems for most sides but would find it difficult to operate against India. The Indian batters play spin well and this time, too, are expected to handle Tahir comfortably.
But among the Indian batsmen, it would be interesting to see how an MS Dhoni deals with him.
Tahir, who turned out for the Dhoni-led Chennai Super Kings, ended IPL 2019 as the highest wicket-taker. It was Tahir who gave Dhoni important breakthroughs in the middle overs, and from behind the stumps the skipper had the best view of Tahir’s sorcery with the ball.
Like Tahir, Dhoni has found form at the right time. Against Bangladesh, in the second warm-up game, the former skipper hit a century off 78 balls. With Dhoni turning back the clock, his batting in the middle-order will hold the key.
On the other hand, having spent two years at the Chennai franchisee, plotting and scheming with Dhoni for wickets, Tahir will be well aware of what to do against his IPL captain.
Meanwhile, there is no better player of spin in the Indian side than Dhoni, that too when he is at the top of his game.
It will be an interesting duel to witness!
Hardik Pandya vs Chris Morris
In what is a battle of all-rounders, Hardik Pandya’s and Chris Morris’ contribution with the bat and the ball could very well end up deciding the fate of the match.
Pandya is expected to fill in as the fourth pacer against South Africa. Rains have been lashing Southampton over the last two days, meaning seamers will play a pivotal role.
With the bat, he will come out most probably at number six or seven, donning the finisher’s hat. Given his credentials, however, Pandya is expected to do more than just finishing with the bat.
He has been in great form both with the bat and the ball in the IPL and India will expect him to sustain the momentum in the World Cup as well.
Morris is also expected to perform the same duties for his side.
With Dale Steyn and Lungi Ngidi sidelined due to injuries, Morris will also need to partner Rabada as the senior statesman with the ball. With conditions suitable for pace bowling, Morris’ versatility might trouble the Indians. With the bat, too, he is more than handy as far winning matches is concerned.
Both players control the same factors in Wednesday’s game and will make for a mouth-watering contest.
Jasprit Bumrah vs Quinton de Kock
Cricket fans were devoid of a keen contest between Jasprit Bumrah and Quinton de Kock during the IPL, by virtue of them being in the same team.
But the Mumbai Indian teammates will finally square-off on Wednesday, in what could end up being one of the most entertaining bat and ball contests.
The result of the India-South Africa tie will depend on how the Proteas decide to tackle Bumrah.
Bumrah, the number one ranked bowler in ODIs, will do his best to make life difficult for the Africans, both at the start and at the death.
At the top of the order, Bumrah will be tasked with drawing first blood, while at the death, his yorkers will be deployed to stop the opposition from scoring big.
De Kock, meanwhile, has been one of the most consistent batsmen for South Africa. He missed his mark in the last match, but Indians will know that he is the biggest threat with the bat among the lineup.
His familiarity with Bumrah’s strategies and bowling style, courtesy time spent together at Mumbai Indians, might also come in handy.
We will have to wait and watch whether Bumrah has revealed all his cards to De Kock in the nets or if he still has some cards up his sleeve.