World Cup 2019: India takes on 'Steyn-less' South Africa

India holds the aces against South Africa that is coping with the loss of its two premier fast bowlers Lungi Ngidi and Dale Steyn.

The absence of the injured duo of Dale Steyn and Lungi Ngidi will further hurt the Proteas while Kohli’s men step in with added confidence.   -  GETTY IMAGES

It’s been a week since the ICC World Cup commenced with the game involving England and South Africa at the Oval. The last few days witnessed a medley of lop-sided clashes and nerve-shredding upsets but India, cricket’s commercial heart, was yet to stride onto the turf.

After the Indian Premier League concluded on May 12, Virat Kohli’s men rested a bit, jetted to holiday destinations and a few of them lit up their Instagram accounts. Once they assembled back in the United Kingdom, two warm-ups were played. The mixed bag featured a defeat against New Zealand and a triumph over Bangladesh.  

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Finally, India will turn up at the World Cup when it takes on South Africa at the Hampshire Bowl here on Wednesday. Interestingly when Kohli addressed the media on Tuesday afternoon, a conch being blown could be briefly heard. Obviously, a fan had sounded out the battle call and the expectations are bound to quadruple.

India holds the aces against a rival that is coping with its present predicament of having suffered two losses. The result against England was on expected lines, but the defeat to Bangladesh was a hope-snuffing one. South Africa has to play remarkably well in the remaining fixtures, to stay in contention for a knock-out berth. The absence of the injured duo of Dale Steyn and Lungi Ngidi will further hurt the Proteas while Kohli’s men step in with added confidence.

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Ranked second in the ODI rankings, India is in the top-matrix but it has some worries. In the two practice games, the opening alliance of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan yielded a mere three and five. A lot rides on the kind of starts that Rohit and Dhawan can bequeath and the two have it in them to strike big. Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri would be hoping that the warm-ups were a blip from an otherwise solid opening pair.

K.L. Rahul has seemingly cemented himself at the number four spot after a 108 against Bangladesh in the practice joust. But he has to do more. With Kohli and perhaps M.S. Dhoni, flanking him on either side at slots three and five, Rahul has to be both the glue and the spicy sauce. The all-rounders’ quotient is sure to have Hardik Pandya while others like Vijay Shankar and Ravindra Jadeja may get a look-in based on the conditions.

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Speedster Jasprit Bumrah’s role will be huge and India would like to believe that its seamers and wrist spinners are better than what South Africa could fling. For the Proteas, veteran Hashim Amla, declared fit for the clash, and Faf du Plessis have to excel while Kagiso Rabada helms an attack that is relatively anaemic despite the presence of a wily Imran Tahir.

In England, eyes are equally cast on the pitch and the skies. The surface here recently ushered in the host’s 373 for three and Pakistan’s 361 for seven. Yet, with clouds being constant sentinels, the speed merchants can gain additional venom. The forecast hints at mild drizzle and both Kohli and his counterpart du Plessis will gaze at the weather-gauge when they pick their resources. 

The teams (from):

India: Virat Kohli (captain), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, M.S. Dhoni, K.L. Rahul, Ravindra Jadeja, Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik, Hardik Pandya, Vijay Shankar, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav.

South Africa: Faf du Plessis (captain), Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, J.P. Duminy, Aiden Markram, David Miller, Chris Morris, Beurhan Hendricks, Imran Tahir, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Rassie van der Dussen and Lungi Ngidi.

Umpires: Richard Kettleborough and Michael Gough; Third umpire: Richard Illingworth; Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle.

Match starts at 3 p.m. IST.