Perhaps for the first time, England enters the World Cup as favourites to win. How Eoin Morgan’s team deal with the tag remains to be seen, but the leaps they have made in limited-overs cricket since crashing out of the 2015 World Cup is apparent to all. England have climbed to the top of the ICC rankings for ODI teams and have broken the record for the highest ODI total twice in recent times.
What has worked for England is the remodeling of the team to have fearless big hitters at the top of the order, and bowlers who can contribute substantially with the bat when needed.
Up against them in the opening match of the tournament is South Africa, who are said to be underdogs. However, it is this underdog status that could give South Africa the fearlessness they’ve lacked at times while encountering heartbreaks at multiple editions of the World Cup.
South Africa’s bowling department, despite Steyn’s absence, will be impressive. There are Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Andile Phehlukwayo, and the retiring-but-menacing legspinner Imran Tahir.
The team’s batting prowess, however, is questionable. It relies on captain Faf du Plessis, Quinton de Kock, and David Miller. Hashim Amla isn’t as feared as he was in his prime, but showed some form by hitting two half-centuries in the warmup matches.
England and South Africa have met six times in World Cups, with both teams having won thrice. England won the tie both the times the teams faced off in the 1992 World Cup.
South Africa convincingly got the better of England the next three times they met in the World Cup – by 78 runs in 1996, by 122 runs in 1999 and by 9 wickets in 2007. At the 2011 World Cup, the two sides were involved in a very low-scoring encounter in Chennai, with England winning by 6 runs after having put up a total of 171.
Coach Ottis Gibson has downplayed South Africa’s own need for a win in the tournament opener. His attitude is, if they win, they win, if they don’t, there’s another game on Sunday (against Bangladesh).
(With inputs from AP)