India up for South African challenge in a do-or-die tie

A quarterfinal, Virat Kohli called it, just the sort of fixture that excites players. This is a test of character for the Indian captain, who early in his first major tournament as leader faces a giant challenge. Kohli has some issues to address.

Virat Kohli shows his football skills at the Oval on Saturday.   -  REUTERS

 

After a week of lopsided contests and washouts, the Champions Trophy has suddenly sprung to life. Pakistan beat South Africa, Sri Lanka stunned India and—in what was less of a surprise than the other two—Bangladesh overcame New Zealand after seemingly being down for the count. India’s loss has thrown Group B tantalisingly wide open, and turned Sunday’s game against South Africa at the Oval into a knock-out tie.

 

A quarterfinal, Virat Kohli called it, just the sort of fixture that excites players. This is a test of character for the Indian captain, who early in his first major tournament as leader faces a giant challenge. Kohli has some issues to address. Against Sri Lanka, India ceded control of the run chase with its failure to take wickets. Ravindra Jadeja and—to an extent—Umesh Yadav did not have their best days, and it is too early to expect 10 quiet overs out of Hardik Pandya. He is unlikely to be jettisoned, though, for his lusty hitting offers the team something it doesn't have. India cannot afford another poor bowling performance, though. Victory on Sunday will mean a trip to Edgbaston for the semifinals, and defeat exit from the Champions Trophy.

INDIA V SOUTH AFRICA: KEY STATS

India will consider fielding R. Ashwin here, possibly at the expense of Kedar Jadhav. There are still five other specialist batsmen (plus Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja); and if they cannot be expected to do the job, a sixth is unlikely to make much difference. In Birmingham, South Africa struggled against the left-arm spin of Imad Wasim, while Mohammad Hafeez, who was carted around a little bit, claimed the important wicket of Quinton de Kock. Conditions are different at the Oval, but those issues against slow bowling could play on South African minds.

 

While India will want to correct course swiftly, Kohli seems wary of knee-jerk reactions to one defeat where, as he pointed out, the opposition batted rather well. It was Sri Lanka’s most successful run chase (level with the 322 it chased down against England at Headingley in 2006) in one-day cricket; such batting performances are not produced every day. India’s own batting, especially in the middle overs, has been called into question, but a side that does not defend 320 (and the match ends with eight balls to spare) cannot hope to do much better with a dozen more.

In South Africa, India faces a batting group of enormous might. Kohli will need no reminding of the last ODI series between the teams, which South Africa won 3-2. In the final game in Mumbai, de Kock, Faf du Plessis and A.B. de Villiers all battered centuries as their side ran up 438. India will hope they do not all fire in unison again.

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