"The team that can have the most composure, I would say, to sum it up, will have a better chance of winning of the game tomorrow."
Virat Kohli's words in the pre-match press conference on Saturday could not have been more apt for India's virtual quarter-final against South Africa on Sunday, with the latter known for their lack of the same in crucial matches in ICC events.
With both teams squandering the momentum gained from their victories at the start of their campaigns, the equation at the moment is pretty simple — both remaining games in Group B are knockout games, with all four teams on two points apiece.
Few would have imagined the top two sides in world cricket fighting to the death for a spot in the semi-finals, ahead of the tournament. Defending champions India and top-ranked ODI team South Africa were easily the favourites for finishing as the top two teams in the group, and one would have even expected the two sides to meet in the summit clash.
Then again, uncertainties are what make sport glorious, and the resurgence of both Pakistan and Sri Lanka have made things interesting in this 'group of death'. Now, every team has an equal chance of making it to the next stage, and that is what has brought a sense of interest back in the tournament.
South Africa hold the clear edge over the Indians when it comes to the head-to-head record, leading them 45-28 in the 76 matches the two have contested in so far. The rivalry between the two sides is more even when it comes to ICC events. While India snapped their losing run to the Proteas in the ICC World Cup in the 2015 edition, Kohli and Co enjoy a 3-0 record against them in the Champions Trophy, having beaten them comprehensively in the last edition of the tournament in 2013.
The Indians will be looking to make a change or two heading into the game, bringing Ravichandran Ashwin into the mix due to the presence of three left-handed batsmen in the likely South African team. Ashwin has not had the best of run in recent times — suffering a slump during the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, before opting out of the 10th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL). Despite being overlooked for the first two games of the tournament, a player of his stature should not find it too difficult to shake off the rust going into this game.
Fielding Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja together then could bring out South Africa's weakness against spin to the fore once again. The Proteas lost early wickets to the duo of Imad Wasim and Mohammad Hafeez, after opting to bat against Pakistan. The momentum was never with them thereafter as they lost regular wickets, and were restricted to 219. For India to do the same, Jadeja will need to fire alongside Ashwin after looking off-colour against Sri Lanka.
The other aspect that the Indians must rectify is their approach in the first powerplay of the innings. India have been the slowest in the tournament so far when it comes to the run-rate in the first 10 overs of the match. While openers Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan have helped India get off to solid starts in the tournament so far, putting up partnerships of 136 and 138, their slow approach might have resulted in the Indians falling short by 15-20 odd runs.
Skipper Kohli showed promise of returning to his old glory with the bat during his unbeaten 81 against Pakistan. But his five-ball duck against Sri Lanka is what would have pegged him back, and gave his detractors more fodder to target him. What adds to the challenge that Kohli faces in the upcoming game is the fact that his record against the South Africans (39.68) is his lowest amongst all 10 Test-playing nations.
In the South African camp, captain AB de Villiers has reasserted that he is in good nick with the bat, and enjoying captaincy, though his recent records would suggest otherwise. Much like Kohli, de Villiers is pillar in the South African batting lineup. His ability to shift gears in the blink of an eye and blow the opposition attack away makes him one of the most feared batsman in limited-overs cricket. His form in the IPL isn't particularly worth a mention here, and his golden duck against Pakistan, the first in his 12-year ODI career, only made it worse for him.
"I'm still in good form. Still hitting the ball well, as always. It's just a matter of going out and doing it," is what de Villiers was quoted as saying ahead of the big-ticket match. What might ease his nerves going into this game is his excellent strike-rate against the Indians (111.21) in ODIs, the second highest for a batsman against an opposition against which he atleast faced 1,000 balls.
Quinton de Kock is the other batsman that the Indians need to watch out. The wicket-keeper batsman has been in raging form for quite some time now, and has been responsible for guiding the South Africans to fantastic starts, with his exploits helping him sweep the Cricket South Africa (CSA) awards that were held last month. His average of 74.11 against the Indians is the highest for any batsman with a minimum of 500 runs against the 'Men in Blue', and the wicket-keeper batsman will hope to improve that record in this game.
It might be a tough prospect to predict the winner of this game, given the quality of the two teams and the consistency that they have displayed in their recent run. But what one can surely expect from this match is a quality contest, and the team that can hold on to its nerves better is the one that will eventually come out on top.
India: Virat Kohli (c), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wicketkeeper), Hardik Pandya, Kedar Jadhav, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Dinesh Karthik, Ajinkya Rahane.
South Africa: AB de Villiers (c), Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock (wicketkeeper), David Miller, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Imran Tahir, Keshav Maharaj, Farhan Behardien, Chris Morris, Wayne Parnell, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwayne Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada.
Venue: The Oval, London.
Time: 09.30 BST, 15:00 IST.
With statistical inputs from Umang Pabari
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Published Date: Jun 11, 2017 02:07 pm | Updated Date: Jun 11, 2017 02:08 pm