Hampshire Bowl, Southampton
June 5, Wednesday; 15:00 IST
Live on Star Sports, streaming on Hotstar
The main picture
India came to the World Cup knowing they will play three of the tournament heavyweights and their biggest rival in their first four matches. On one hand, as sportsmen and competitors, Virat Kohli and co. will have been itching to enter the battlefield and get on with their jobs. But, in hindsight, the long wait for the first match has allowed India to study their opposition (not just South Africa) and understand the conditions at different venues, while the players who were previously injured have been able to regain fitness and put themselves in contention for selection for Wednesday.
Mind you, none of those aspects will make India’s task any easier when they take the field at Hampshire Bowl in Southampton on Wednesday, against a Faf du Plessis-led South Africa whose weaknesses have been laid bare by England and Bangladesh. But India are the team in a better frame of mind than South Africa, who are carrying three injured players and have looked a pale shadow of their former selves in the batting, bowling and fielding departments.
When India arrived in England on May 23rd, they weren’t particularly sure about the No. 4 batting position. Then, to make matters worse, one of the anointed No. 4 batsmen had an injury scare while batting in the nets a day before India’s first World Cup warm-up match against New Zealand. Vijay Shankar’s misfortune, you might have thought, was KL Rahul’s gain, but it didn’t come to pass: the Karnataka right-hander fell cheaply and in familiar fashion after showcasing (even if only briefly) why despite playing only a handful of ODIs in the last year, he has a place in India’s World Cup squad.
Two days before they begin their campaign, India know who their No. 4 batsman is, with Rahul getting a hundred in the warm-up match against Bangladesh and MS Dhoni using the same match to remind himself and everyone that he still has a big role to play with the bat in the Indian middle order. The bowlers have spent plenty of time in the nets and probably have assessed the lengths to bowl to be effective on pitches that have not entirely been batting-friendly if the first five matches are anything to go by.
India have had bonding sessions in between training days and the entire group exudes a feel-good factor that cannot quite be said about a couple of other World Cup teams.
The expectations of South Africa are not the same as of, say, India or England, but their performances against England and Bangladesh have been below par. Their batting line-up obviously lacks the firepower of the yesteryear, but you expect players with the experience of Quinton de Kock and du Plessis to deliver under pressure. These two batsmen were involved in solid partnerships with Rassie van der Dussen while chasing 300-plus scores in the first couple of matches and despite the constantly climbing required run rate, du Plessis and de Kock’s choice of shots and the timing of their acceleration were questionable. Going forward, South Africa’s senior batsmen have to be almost precise with their decision-making and execution to ensure they post substantial totals batting first or give themselves every chance of chasing down challenging totals.
South Africa’s strength is their bowling, but Dale Steyn’s absence has been felt, while Lungi Ngidi bowled only four overs before sustaining a hamstring injury which is likely to keep him out for at least 10 days. Du Plessis said before the first match that Steyn will be fully fit by the time South Africa play their third match, but he has been ruled out of the tournament after the second shoulder injury failed to respond to treatment.
Pitch report and weather conditions
The pitch at Hampshire Bowl in Southampton is likely to be batting-friendly, which doesn’t necessarily mean we will witness a high-scoring match given the quality of the two bowling attacks.
The weather forecast says that Wednesday will have a high of 17-degree Celsius, with a chance for a couple of showers.
India vs South Africa playing 11
The Indian team management must choose between the two wrist-spinners in the squad, with Ravindra Jadeja likely to play as the No. 8 to add depth to the batting line-up. Kedar Jadhav and Dinesh Karthik are in a two-way battle for the No. 6 spot in the Indian playing 11.
India playing XI: 1 Virat Kohli (c), 2 Rohit Sharma, 3 Shikhar Dhawan, 4 KL Rahul, 5 MS Dhoni(wk), 6 Kedar Jadhav/Dinesh Karthik, 7 Hardik Pandya, 8 Ravindra Jadeja, 9 Mohammed Shami, 10 Jasprit Bumrah, 11 Kuldeep Yadav
South Africa don’t have a fully-fit squad to choose from, unlike India. Left-arm seamer Beuran Hendricks has replaced Steyn in South Africa’s World Cup squad, but we will have to see if he comes straight into the XI or Tabraiz Shamsi replaces the also injured Ngidi. After missing the Bangladesh match as a precaution for the head injury he suffered in the match against England, Amla is likely to return to the XI. The South African team management must decide who among David Miller and JP Duminy makes way for the opening batsman.
South Africa playing XI:
1 Faf du Plessis (c), 2 Hashim Amla, 3 Quinton de Kock (wk), 4 Aiden Markram, 5 Rassie van der Dussen, 6 David Miller/JP Duminy, 7 Chris Morris, 8 Andile Phehlukwayo, 9 Kagiso Rabada, 10 Tabraiz Shamsi, 11 Imran Tahir
On paper, India appear the more balanced, settled unit, with South Africa also demoralised by the back-to-back defeats to England and Bangladesh. The onus is on the Proteas to raise their collective game to challenge a resourceful, buoyant Indian side who are not without weaknesses.