Two sides who would have had their sights set firmly on winning the ICC Cricket World Cup trophy before a ball was bowled meet in the second part of the double header on Saturday when the defending champions England take on South Africa.
This match sees the tournament heading to the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai for the first time with both teams looking for a morale boosting win which will enhance their confidence and their position in the table.
This has certainly not been the sort of title defence that England would have been envisioning when they landed on Indian shores a few weeks ago. They have been more up and down than the average rollercoaster and have twice paid the price for that. England were pitiful in their opening match against New Zealand but it looked like they had got things back on track when they dominated Bangladesh, only to be humbled by Afghanistan last time out.
Two defeats doesn’t end the title defence of England but it has wiped out a significant amount of wiggle room for Jos Buttler and his men. With this match against South Africa and battles with India, Pakistan and Australia still to come, England can probably afford no more than one more defeat so the pressure is on them. If they are going to get on a winning run their bowlers really need to come to the party right at the top of the innings. Teams have got away from England far too easily so far.
Just when you thought that the days of South Africa flattering to deceive and not choking in a major tournament were behind us they reverted to type in spectacular style. Having opened the tournament with incredibly comfortable and emphatic victories over Sri Lanka and Australia where they set records tumbling they were expected to push on and become true contenders when they faced the Netherlands in their third match.
This is South Africa though and in true Proteas style they fluffed their lines and were beaten and now have to prove to everyone that they have the credentials needed once again. Teams can lose matches but this team seem to consistently lose matches they should win and each one of them tends to contain them wilting to any kind of pressure. England will have them under pressure here so it will be interesting to see how they deal with that when it arrives.
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England are set to welcome Ben Stokes back into their side for this crunch clash. In truth, he could have replaced anyone with the exception of Dawid Malan and Joe Root but it looks as though Liam Livingstone will be canned. One of Sam Curran or Chris Woakes are expected to make way for David Willey.
South Africa don’t really have too much in the way of change up options so they are going to go in with the bulk of the side who lost to the Netherlands last time out. Their only dilemma is Gerald Coetzee or Tabraiz Shamsi. The former is expected to get the nod on a small ground.
I have been waiting for this tournament to make its way to the Wankhede Stadium since it began and I’m expecting fireworks in this one. I would be amazed if this is a low scoring game. South Africa have plundered 400 twice in the last month while England are no strangers to a big score themselves and I’m pretty confident that if they are going to go down in this tournament from here on in it will be swinging rather than that timid, tepid display they put on last time. These two teams generally combine for big scoring matches and on a ground where the ball notoriously flies and batting is a dream I expect the sixes to flow. We’ve seen both teams belt sixes this year and the platform they get to do it here is a solid one. 14.5 sixes doesn’t look nearly high enough of a line for these two.
These two teams last met on this ground in the T20 World Cup in 2016. South Africa put up 229 that day and it never looked like being enough as England chased it down. I fully expect the runs to flow here too. In the recent IPL the average score here was 197 while 200 was chased down on three occasions and chasing here is often the way to go because the ground is just impossible to defend. Whoever bats first will know they need to be looking at 350 to be in the game here given the exposed bowling they have at their disposal versus a firing batting unit. In terms of dimensions and batting wicket this ground is very much like Centurion and Johannesburg in South Africa and not too dissimilar to somewhere like Trent Bridge in England so both teams will be comfortable getting after the bowling. England have batted 16 times in ODIs against South Africa since 2016 and scored over 325 on five occasions and over 300 on two others. South Africa have scored over 325 in three of those games and in an ODI earlier in the year in Bloemfontein England failed to defend 343 with Mark Wood the only bowler missing that day who could play here. You can get 11/2 on both teams scoring 325 which is probably under par around here. I think there is more than enough to suggest that is in play here.
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