Who would have thought that the scenario could possibly become like this? Right from the commencement of this tournament, the Proteas and the Men in Blue were the discernible favourites of Group B in Champions Trophy 2017.
The general prediction was by the time these would meet each other vis-à-vis, they would have already reached for the semis by eliminating the other two contenders, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
But the ‘underdogs’ had excogitated something else for them. First after being pulverised by India at Edgbaston, Pakistan made one hell of a riposte as their bowlers mauled the star-studded batting unit of South Africa. Whereas the Sri Lankan batsmen made the ostensible insurmountable target set by India look reasonably tiny.
These two sudden upsets in consecutive days made this group a group of death. The remaining two matches of this group will effectively be two quarter-finals which puts both India and South Africa in a ‘Do or Die’ situation.
The problem which cost the game for them against Sri Lanka was the ineptitude to pick up vital wickets in the middle-overs. They were brought back in the game after managing two resplendent run-outs but that advantage evanesced with every brutal blow from Angelo Matthews.
Keeping in mind that there will be a plethora of southpaws in the South African batting corps, the Indian team management might consider bringing back the prolific off-spinner, Ravi Chandran Ashwin for making inroads albeit he probably wouldn’t have much succour from the pitch at the KIA Oval.
As for South Africa, the current form of their swashbuckling batsman AB De Villiers might be a cause of their anxiousness. He hasn’t been himself in this Champions Trophy so far. Having said that, everyone knows what might happen to the opposition if his bat starts talking. The Proteas will draw heart from the fact that their bowlers have been phenomenal. They destroyed Sri Lanka with some clinical spells. Even with a meagre total 220, they made life veritably difficult for the Pakistanis while chasing.
Similarly, India would be majorly relying on their batsmen, especially the two openers. They have performed with surgical precision while batting. The dalliance of Shikhar Dhawan with this tournament continues as he amassed 193 runs with an average of 96.50 in this edition so far. As a batting unit India would be looking forward to putting up more than 350 this time to provide there bowlers some more leeway if asked to bat first.
To be candid, both sides would look forward to chase in lieu of batting first to avoid grappling with the critical decision making in the first half of this virtual quarter-final that no one anticipated. If we take augurs into account then it is a fact that India never won an ICC tournament when they lost a match against Sri Lanka.
Putting aside this vivisection of these two rivals, it is known to all that the beauty of cricket lies in its incertitude. Both Sri Lanka and Pakistan proved this fact with their unheralded sterling performances which actually vivified this tournament.
Ergo, all we can do is to fasten our seatbelts for a fascinating contest in the Champions Trophy this Sunday morning (or afternoon for the viewers in India) because there won’t be any dearth of stimuli tomorrow.
India LWLWW (completed matches, most recent first)
South Africa LWWLL
India (possible) 1 Rohit Sharma, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Virat Kohli (capt.), 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 MS Dhoni (wk), 6 Kedar Jadhav, 7 Hardik Pandya, 8 Ravindra Jadeja, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 R Ashwin, 11 Jasprit Bumrah
South Africa (possible): 1 Hashim Amla, 2 Quinton de Kock (wk), 3 Faf du Plessis, 4 AB de Villiers (capt), 5 David Miller, 6 JP Duminy, 7 Chris Morris, 8 Wayne Parnell 9 Kagiso Rabada, 10 Morne Morkel, 11 Imran Tahir
Pitch and Conditions:
The Oval has been the truest surface. In three completed matches there, the record for the highest successful Champions Trophy chase has been broken twice in the last 10 days. Don’t bet against a third one, especially with clear weather. The pitch from the India-Sri Lanka game will be used again.