Do you back your strength, or look to exploit your opponent’s weakness? Rohit Sharma and Temba Bavuma will have that question in their minds as India take on South Africa in a top-of-the-table clash at Eden Gardens on Sunday.
South Africa love to bat first. Their top order invariably sets the platform for the middle to go big. Batting first in this World Cup, their totals have been 428, 311, 399, 382 and 357. On each occasion, they won by more than 100 runs. While chasing, though, they lost to Netherlands and narrowly escaped, with a one-wicket win, against Pakistan.
For India, it’s the opposite. They prefer having a target in front of them so that they can pace their innings accordingly. Batting first, they can appear unsure about how hard to go. So whoever wins the toss on Sunday will have to make the tricky call.
This match will also present the sternest test so far for India’s five-bowler strategy. In the absence of Hardik Pandya, who has now been ruled out of the World Cup, India do not have a sixth bowling option in their regular XI, something Bavuma said South Africa will look to take advantage of.
Pakistan’s win over New Zealand on Saturday means South Africa have joined India in the semi-finals. With India and South Africa well-placed to retain the top-two positions by the end of the league stage, this could very well be a dress rehearsal for the final, though they have to get there first.
Form guide – two teams in red-hot form
India WWWWW (last five ODIs, most recent first) South Africa WWWWL
In the spotlight – Mohammed Shami and Quinton de Kock
Mohammed Shami was not part of India’s first-choice XI at the World Cup. He got a chance only when Hardik was injured. But after playing only three matches, he is among the leading wicket-takers in the tournament. He started with a five-for against New Zealand, picked up four against England, and then five more against Sri Lanka. In any other team, he would have probably opened the bowling; for India, he bowls first change after Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj. That he is still able to make such a big impact is a testament to his skills.
Quinton de Kock is having a dream World Cup. He is the leading run-scorer (545) and century-maker (four) at this stage. He may take his time early on but his overall strike rate of 112.60 is well above par. India must be one of his favourite opponents. In 19 ODIs against them, he has six hundreds, three of them in successive innings at the start of his career. With Bavuma struggling for form, de Kock’s role becomes even more important in setting the platform for the middle order to tee off.
Team news – Shamsi might come in
India are likely to field an unchanged XI, with KL Rahul now officially the vice-captain of the team.
Bavuma has hinted that South Africa could play both Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi. But the final decision will be made after seeing the pitch. Shamsi, though, doesn’t have a great record against India: five wickets in six ODIs, at an economy of 6.48.
South Africa (probable): 1 Quinton de Kock (wk), 2 Temba Bavuma (capt), 3 Rassie van der Dussen, 4 Aiden Markram, 5 David Miller, 6 Heinrich Klaasen, 7 Marco Jansen, 8 Kagiso Rabada, 9 Keshav Maharaj, 10 Lungi Ngidi, 11 Tabraiz Shamsi/Gerald Coetzee
Pitch and conditions – will dew play a role?
The pitch at Eden Gardens hasn’t really favoured a particular type of bowling. If fast bowlers have picked up wickets at a better strike rate than the spinners, spinners have superior economy rates. On Sunday afternoon, the temperature will peak at 32°C. At night, it’s expected to drop to 23°C, which means dew could play a role in the second innings. The Air Quality Index will be around 160.
Stats and trivia – Jansen’s powerplay impact
Virat Kohli (48) is one short of equalling Sachin Tendulkar’s record of most ODI hundreds. If he gets there on Sunday, it will make his 35th birthday all the more special.
Kohli is yet to get out to spin in this World Cup. In 204 balls against spinners, he has scored 184 runs.
Among those who have bowled at least 15 overs in this World Cup, only two have economy rates under four: Jasprit Bumrah (3.72) and Ravindra Jadeja (3.78).
Marco Jansen has picked up 12 wickets in the powerplay in this World Cup – the most by any bowler in that phase. Sri Lanka’s Dilshan Madushanka is second with seven.
South Africa’s 82 sixes in the tournament are the most by any team in a single edition of the World Cup. England (76 in 2019) held the previous record.
Lungi Ngidi has dismissed Shreyas Iyer four times in 30 balls in ODIs.
Maharaj is two short of 50 ODI wickets.
“It is a contest between two teams that are playing very good cricket. Whether they [South Africa] are the toughest or not, I think there are three or four other good teams in this tournament as well. Maybe some of them haven’t clicked as well as they would have liked to, or they have had a tough run. But South Africa certainly have been playing very well.” India head coach Rahul Dravid
“You got two teams who are in form, coming up against each other and I think it’s just a matter of who breaks first and who’s able to I guess, exploit that moment or that weakness. We understand that there will be pressure moments within the World Cup, moments that we’ve overcome to get to this point, and there will still be more. We’ll deal with them as best as we can.” South Africa captain Temba Bavuma