Champions Trophy: Steyn the key for SA; Cook crucial for England

England and South Africa clash in the semifinals of the Champions Trophy on Wednesday, and one cannot but think about how the hosts are facing the chokers of modern cricket. South Africa have not made a final in a major ICC Trophy since the 2002 Champions Trophy and will be anxious to end that streak.

The Proteas lost their opener against India before beating Pakistan and riding their luck against West Indies in a rain-affected encounter.

England meanwhile, defeated bitter rivals Australia in their opening game before losing against Sri Lanka and then thumping New Zealand to reach the semis.

Here are the key player battles that could go a long way in affecting the result:

Ian Bell vs Dale Steyn: Steyn has just played once in this tournament — against West Indies when he took 2/33 in six overs. Bell, who has had one big knock of 91 against Australia, failed to get going against New Zealand (dismissed for 10) and contributed a very patient 48-ball 20 against Sri Lanka. While 121 runs from three innings is not that bad, his solid technique will be tested against Steyn. If Alastair Cook and Bell can frustrate Steyn, then most of their battle is won.

Joe Root, England's wonderkid, in action at CT 13. Getty Images

Joe Root, England's wonderkid, in action at CT 13. Getty Images

James Anderson vs AB de Villiers: Anderson, who has angrily denied allegations of ball tampering, has been England's best bowler in the tournament. He's found great rhythm, making use of the home conditions and taking eight wickets at an average of just 14.12. De Villiers on the other hand has been SA's best batsman, scoring 138 runs with a strike-rate of 107.81. He is the player who drives South Africa's middle order if Anderson can get him early, then South Africa will struggle to push the score.

Alastair Cook vs Ryan McLaren: In-form batsman vs a bowler who has been very unpredictable and still successful. McLaren's eight wickets at an average of 15.37 makes him SA's best bowler at this tournament and Cook's 153 runs in three innings makes him the best England batter this tournament. Both are in top form and Cook will need to be patient to see off McLaren.

Tim Bresnan vs Hashim Amla: Bresnan may have performed slightly below expectations, and we pit him against Hashim Amla, who seems to be in an untouchable position in the SA setup. Amla has 126 runs with a strike-rate of just above 90. Bresnan however, has managed only four wickets and has the maximum economy rate among all English bowlers (5.96). Expect Amla to win this battle.

Joe Root vs Lonwabo Tsotsobe: It's England's wonderkid against South Africa's late bloomer. Root, fresh from a brazen blow from David Warner and with only 14 ODIs under his belt at the age of 22-years still finds himself favourite against Tsotsobe, who has managed to break into the SA squad over the past couple of years. He has played 47 ODIs, but prides himself on his overall average (24.14) and economy rate (4.83). However, he hasn't hit those type of figures in this tournament and comes up against a supremely confident batsman in Root. The Yorkshireman is a symbol of calm and composure even in the shorter format of the game, and has ghosted to 118 runs in three innings. Only one winner here.