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India holds advantage against South Africa in inaugural match

South Africa will miss the pace of Steyn, who is nursing a side strain, and will look at Amla to lead with the bat

India holds advantage against South Africa in inaugural match - Cricket News
Indian cricketer Umesh Yadav delivers a ball during a practice session.
When these two teams met in the group stages of the 2011 World Cup, it was one of the best matches of the competition. Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag flayed Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, adding 142 in just 17.4 overs. Steyn’s telling old-ball spell transformed the game, however, and late cameos from Faf du Plessis, Johan Botha and Robin Peterson saw South Africa home with two balls to spare.

Less than a month later, India celebrated a second World Cup win. South Africa was already back home, nursing the gaping wounds left by a Daniel Vettori-inspired smash-and-grab in the quarterfinal. It was in keeping with the general narrative that suggests India lifts its game for the big occasions, while South Africa drops a notch or three.

This game is too close to call. South Africa would normally start favourites in these conditions, but with a side strain likely to keep Dale Steyn out, India will fancy its chances, especially after their 243-rout of an Australian side on Tuesday (June 4). Rory Kleinveldt will take Steyn’s place, and the main selection conundrum that South Africa face concerns the No.7 spot.

If Colin Ingram does keep his place in the top three, it will come down to a choice between Ryan McLaren, Farhaan Behardien and David Miller for the No.7 spot. With his all-round skills, McLaren is likely to edge that contest.

India’s line-up will also be a little different from what it was expected to be a week ago. Dinesh Karthik came to England as one of the reserve batsmen. After centuries in both warm-up games, he has ensured that he’ll start against South Africa. It’s between Rohit Sharma and Murali Vijay for the second opener’s spot, with Rohit’s greater experience likely to prevail.

The bowlers more or less pick themselves, especially the pace trio of Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Yadav and Ishant took eight wickets between them against the Australians, but Bhuvneshwar’s tidy eight-over stint was just as important in building up pressure.

With no Graeme Smith or Jacques Kallis to anchor the innings, South Africa will rely heavily on Hashim Amla, especially in conditions where the new ball will be such a tough proposition. AB de Villiers, who pronounced himself fully fit on the eve of the game despite Quinton de Kock being called up to the squad, will bat at No. 4, with JP Duminy and du Plessis the others in a very strong middle order.

Both Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Morne Morkel have outstanding career figures, but those numbers have suffered greatly when they’ve come to England. Tsotsobe, in particular, had a horrendous tour last summer, taking 1-138 in four matches. If Steyn isn’t around, the spotlight will be very much on both of them, and their ability to lead the line.

India, with R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, clearly has the edge when it comes to spin, but that’s unlikely to be much of a factor on a true pitch that will give both quick bowlers and middle-order batsmen plenty of encouragement.

If the warm-up games so far are any guide, this match too will be won and lost in the first Power Play for either side. Teams have become so used to a Sehwag-like blitz at the start of the innings, but in England in June a more circumspect approach will be key to success. There will be plenty of short balls at India’s batsmen, especially Rohit and Raina, but for once, Dhoni’s team has the ammunition to respond. Yadav, a miner’s son playing in a country where so many of the sporting legends came from such backgrounds, could well hold the key.

Likely XIs:

South Africa: Hashim Amla, Alviro Petersen, Colin Ingram, AB de Villiers (capt, wk), JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Ryan McLaren/Farhaan Behardien, Robin Peterson, Rory Kleinveldt/Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Morne Morkel. 

India: Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Dinesh Karthik, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni (capt, wk), Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav.

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