Even before the World Cup began, it was supposed to be among the marquee clashes of the mega event. Not just for the cultural crossover among the playing groups but mainly due to the sheer quality of the teams.
Add to it the context of the stage of the tournament and Saturday’s clash between England and South Africa is perhaps the most important match of the tournament which trudges along towards the halfway mark.
Both the teams have had a forgettable last outing, having been on the losing side in two upsets.
While defending champion England meekly surrendered against Afghanistan’s spin pack in New Delhi over the weekend, the Proteas crumbled against the Netherlands earlier this week.
While dark horse South Africa can still take heart from having defeated Australia before suffering its first loss of the tournament in an unexpected manner, England will be under more pressure to get its campaign on track.
Having been annihilated by New Zealand in the tournament opener and humiliated by Afghanistan in its last encounter, Saturday’s clash could well be a battle for survival for England. It couldn’t have asked for a better occasion than Ben Stokes’ maiden appearance at the World Cup.
The England all-rounder — who suffered a hip injury during the World Cup warm-up leg in Guwahati and even bowled gentle off-spin in the nets on Friday instead of his trademark medium-pace — is available for selection.
It will be interesting to see England’s composition should Stokes return to the side.
The Proteas, meanwhile, will be banking on Quinton de Kock to score big at his happy-hunting IPL (Indian Premier League) venue.
The Wankhede Stadium’s relaid outfield will also face the stern test as the iconic venue hosts its first game of the tournament.
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