POOL B | Sunday 22 February | Melbourne | 05:30
Sunday’s tussle between India and South Africa could well prove to be a decisive fixture in the final complexion of Pool B. Indeed, aside from the monumental clash involving India and Pakistan this must be considered the Pool’s marquee matchup. The Proteas have an impressive record against cricket’s financial superpower - especially in recent times - and will draw upon their last meeting on the world stage when they ousted India by three wickets in Nagpur at the 2011 World Cup. India went on to win that tournament but South Africa’s head-to-head record, boasting 42 ODI wins from seventy contests, will leave the defending champions uneasy coming into this one.
To Win Match
South Africa 11/20
Winning their sixth consecutive World Cup match against Pakistan prompted MS Dhoni into admitting that it is a record to be proud of, but the Indian captain refused to get carried away. It is but one of many matches that make up a World Cup and India will be hopeful of not dropping any points in what must be considered the easier of the two groups. As already mentioned, this will be very difficult against a Proteas side who seems to have their number. But India will fondly remember Sachin Tendulkar scoring the first ODI double century against a South African attack including Dale Steyn. Their bowling is their primary weakness and they must realise that despite defending 300 against Pakistan, there will be times in this tournament when the likes of Yadav, Mohit Sharma and Shami travel.
Virat Kohli sent out an ominous warning with another well crafted century in India’s opening match. Kohli is one of the few in the Indian setup that has already proven his ability to score runs on Australia’s quicker pitches. A world record 22 centuries in 143 innings bears testament to his almost unlimited ability. To consider how many of those have come in chases makes the statistic all the more valuable. Kohli rises to the big occasion and India will be hard-pressed to find a larger one before the knockout stages. There is, of course, a small snag in their plans. They will be heartened by Dhawan’s return to runs as well as the performance of Suresh Raina, but talisman Kohli seems to struggle against the Proteas. He averages only a shade over 34.00 against South Africa and has never scored an ODI century against the opposition. Whether Kohli can click will be vital for an Indian team who seems a shadow of the side that marched to the title four years ago.
Captain AB de Villiers preferred to focus on the positives as the Proteas were given a minor scare by minnows Zimbabwe. Their opponents proved stubborn throughout the match and must be commended on an exceptional performance against their dominant neighbours. That being said, the Proteas came through a pressure situation unscathed and actually looked very convincing in wrestling the initiative back from Zimbabwe. The top order was removed cheaply in painfully sluggish conditions that were exploited well by Zimbabwe’s frontline medium-pacers and the Proteas found themselves in a pickle at 83/4. No more wickets were lost as South Africa powered to 339 from their fifty overs, David Miller blasting 138 from 92 balls and JP Duminy also crossing three-figures with 115 from 100 balls. It was a world record fifth-wicket partnership. Duminy’s innings was probably the more skilful of the two, nudging singles and rotating the strike only to launch from a platform later on. To criticise, one would’ve preferred the top order to cotton on to the strategy required to succeed in the slow conditions earlier and without losing their wickets. They should improve on a quicker, bouncier MCG strip.
Zimbabwe made a fantastic effort in keeping up with the chase but were undone as Imran Tahir ensured that they were kept guessing. The pace attack was largely unimpressive and although the wicket didn’t suit them, their inability to stay disciplined with the ball at the death may come back to haunt them against stiffer opposition. Indeed, one cannot be sure of the effect of Tahir against settled, top class batsmen. In fact, the whole match was a perfect illustration of the necessity of consistent breakthroughs on the bowling front. If allowed to form partnerships, sides can take the game away with a flurry from the last ten overs or so. The Proteas will take heart from their finishing which has perhaps lacked in recent years. If the whole squad continue to put their hands up at crucial stages in the match, the Proteas can bank on World Cup success.
The massive MCG plays host to this important Pool B fixture, the same ground that will welcome the final on March 29th. Australia met England at the ground on opening day and amassed 342 with a big century from Aaron Finch. England made tough work of the chase and fell well short, but there should be runs aplenty when India and South Africa meet. Mitchell Marsh and Steven Finn both picked up five wicket hauls so the seamers will feel that there is enough on offer to cause some trouble. No rain is predicted.
VERDICT: South Africa 11/20
Both of South Africa’s weaknesses in their last outing (the top order, the pace attack) should welcome the change of venue. The batsmen will be pleased with the ball coming onto the bat and the seamers will enjoy the added pace and bounce in order to be more attacking themselves. South Africa also seem one of the few sides in world cricket that can negate India’s most pressing threats. I foresee a Proteas victory that may perhaps give the side a false sense of security in the ease with which they pull it off.