India begin their World Cup 2019 campaign against South Africa at The Oval in London on Wednesday, with a lot of eyes on skipper Virat Kohli as he embarks on the most defining journey of his international career, carrying the hopes of more than a billion.
Kohli is one of the best batsmen of this era but this edition of the World Cup will define his legacy as a leader, an aspect on which the jury is still out despite some heady achievements in the Test arena.
There’s no doubt that the Proteas are badly hit by poor form and injuries but it may just take one fiery spell from Kagiso Rabada to straighten things up.
A bit of help from the weather conditions with his scorching pace and ability to move the ball, Rabada could just unsettle the opening pair of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, who haven’t had the best of times during the past few months.
Both are capable of turning the match on its head but they could be short on confidence due to lack of runs since the start of the away ODIs against Australia.
Rohit’s apparent weakness against leg-spinners could be exploited by rival captain Faf du Plessis, who can again think of giving the new ball to Imran Tahir.
KL Rahul is expected to take the No. 4 slot but it needs to be seen as to how well he performs when the condition are nippy. MS Dhoni at No 5 will be the stabilising factor and if he bats like the Bangladesh warm-up game, he can be a nightmare for the Proteas attack.
The ‘Men In Blue’ have had adequate rest. All other teams have already played two games each and they can’t wait to kick-start their campaign with a commanding performance.
For South Africa, fast bowler Lungi Ngidi is out with a hamstring strain, senior speedster Dale Steyn is still recovering from a shoulder injury and Hashim Amla got a nasty hit on the helmet off Jofra Archer’s short ball against England in the opening game.
South Africa’s confidence will be at its lowest following back-to-back defeats against England and Bangladesh.
The clash couldn’t possibly have been more well-timed as India have a chance to hold the Proteas by the scruff of their neck when they are seemingly at their weakest.
Pitch and Conditions
The pitch at the Ageas Bowl stadium in Southampton, devoid of grass cover, is expected to be a batting-friendly but Kohli will have a few points to ponder upon as the weather forecast on match day indicates cloud cover with intermittent shower.
India: Virat Kohli (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, K L Rahul, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Kedar Jadhav, Vijay Shankar, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Dinesh Karthik, Ravindra Jadeja
South Africa: Faf du Plessis (captain), Quinton de Kock (wk), Aiden Markram, Hashim Amla, JP Duminy, David Miller, Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Dwaine Pertorius, Andile Phehlukwayo, Tabraiz Shamshi, Imran Tahir, Lungi Ngidi, Chris Morris, Rassie van der Dussen
(With PTI inputs)