Written by Maverick White for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!
England vs South Africa | Wednesday 19 June | The Oval | 11:30
Although my Champions Trophy has not gone quite as well as expected, England still topped Group A and at this stage, I’ll take what I can get. Australia were bumped out of the competition by perpetual bridesmaids Sri Lanka and although I naively had them out as tournament winners, few could’ve predicted the shambles that accompanied David Warner’s punch-up and Michael Clarke’s telling injury. At the end of the group stage proceedings England narrowly held on to top spot, with redeemed Duckworth/Lewis survivors South Africa clinching the second semi-final spot in Group B. It sets up this World Cup 1992 repeat scenario, albeit not in Sydney and not with an utterly absurd rain rule in place.
South Africa 9/10
The English, hosts of the drenched tournament, have had their own run-ins with the rain. In a match reduced to 24 overs against the Black Caps with a semi-final spot at stake, the England bowlers proved to make the difference as New Zealand fell short of the target by 10 runs. It wouldn’t be fair to to give them all the credit however, with non-T20 player and captain Alastair Cook striking a superb 64 from 47 balls. He was reprieved three times at the slippery hands of Nathan McCullum, but still proved he can score at a rate when required. James Anderson was a veritable magician with the ball once again, so tough to face in English conditions and so deadly if misjudged. England’s top order have performed in the competition, Trott, Root, Bell and Bopara all amongst the runs. Perhaps England’s biggest problems lie in the power-hitters Morgan and Buttler, who have both failed to impress, and the untimely tight calf of Graeme Swann, potentially forcing him out of the tournament. England’s downfall could lie in how they look to see off Dale Steyn and the inexperience of James Tredwell in big match, pressure scenarios. They’ve proven they can post big scores and defend par ones and will look to feed off the home atmosphere at the Oval. The rivalry is fierce, and the English will not back down from a fight.
Accustomed to rain-affected encounters at major tournaments and ties, for once the Proteas were on the receiving end of a favourable outcome. The talk of it erasing the ‘chokers’ tag however, is irrelevant. The talk of the result being some sort of cosmic justice is unjustified. These things either go your way or they don’t and it really is as simple as that, in this day and age at least. While the platform created by the batsmen was impressive and spells by Dale Steyn and Robin Peterson proved critically important, and indeed, to find yourself in the position to win such an encounter takes a good match performance, the fact remains that it inevitably comes down to the timing of the weather and the umpire’s decision on the day. Being a South African supporter and having lived through the emotional turmoil of ‘what could’ve been’ when assessing these encounters, it is tough not to feel sympathy for the West Indies. All things equal, the match was as closely poised when it was called off as the imagination could envisage. We’ll never know who would’ve come out on top. The only way for the Proteas to prove that they are not ‘chokers’, is to win the tournament outright.
The question is whether they have what it takes. At present, India look the biggest threat but South Africa have been known to blitz opponents in the group stages only to come up short later on. India however, have a tournament-winning mentality bred by MS Dhoni. South Africa have still not put in a performance comprehensive enough to strike fear into the hearts of opponents but will be buoyed by the return of Dale Steyn. The Protea batsmen are beginning to find their feet, Amla having performed against Pakistan while Ingram and the middle-order stood up against the West Indies. Against England they’ll encounter resistance in the form of their resolute top order and the cunning James Anderson. It’s two more knockout steps for South Africa, but they will be the longest and most stressful two steps these players have yet to make, with the burden of the past resting heavily on their shoulders.
At the beginning of the tournament the Oval looked like it might be tough to score runs on, the seamers finding movement and the spinners gaining purchase. As the the tournament has progressed, the track has become better for strokemakers but is still not easy against the two new balls. It is likely both sides will look to play it safe in the opening overs and keep wickets in hand. However, it will be raining in London all week and likelihood of a T20 style shoot off looms.
BEST: Top England Batsman, Jonathan Trott 33/10
Despite the chances of this being a shortened game, Trott found form against Sri Lanka at the Oval and will, as always, attempt to play the anchor role. He enjoys scoring limited overs runs against his birth country, although a century has still been denied him in all formats against the Proteas. Nevertheless, back him to be the backbone of the innings.
VERDICT: England 9/10
The bookies aren’t making any claims to who is the favourite, in any departments. Indeed, both sides look evenly matched and encounters between them are usually fiercely close. My memory is too garbled by knockout heartbreak on the part of the South Africans to be led into backing them here. This is where the journey ends.
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