KOLKATA: Former South Africa skipper Graeme Smith had wished for it. Now, others are predicting it. Keeping in mind all the glorious uncertainties of the game, the India versus South Africa top-of-the-table clash at the Eden Gardens is being seen as a dress rehearsal for a possible World Cup final.
The outcome of Sunday’s match will not have much of an impact on the points table as India and South Africa have both been assured of last-four berths. But keeping the bigger picture in mind, this match can help both sides get ready for the knockout stages.
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However, India head coach Rahul Dravid played the prospect down, saying, “We’re not really worried about what many are saying. We are focused on this game. We know it’s one of the league games in the tournament.”
As such, both sides have ticked almost all the boxes. Barring one reversal against the Netherlands, South Africa have driven home their dominance this time while India have looked ruthless while annihilating their opponents. The magnitude of the sides’ wins speaks volumes of the quality of cricket they have displayed in this edition of the tournament. And none will take the foot off the pedal now that the tournament has reached its business end.
India always start with high expectations at World Cups and this time the dreams of a billion cricket-crazy home fans are getting closer to realisation.
If sports is all about competition, then one should look no further than these two teams, both in the best of form. South Africa have posted more than 300 runs in the five matches that they have batted first. But they seemed to falter a bit while batting second, losing to the Netherlands and sealing an edgy one-wicket win against Pakistan.
With Rohit Sharma and Quinton de Kock in sublime form, both sides will need to have their plans ready starting at the top. With Rohit seen only to be uncomfortable against incoming deliveries from left-arm pacers, South Africa will look to Marco Jansen to stop the Indian skipper. The six-feet-eight-inch tall left-armer, the highest wicket-taker for South Africa in this World Cup so far, will try to extract extra bounce out of the Eden track. Along with Kagiso Rabada and Gerald Coetzee, the Proteas have the firepower to rattle the Indian batters with pace.
However, talking about pace, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj, India perhaps have the best pace attack of this tournament. But there will be something for the spinners too and the South African skipper saying “if possible, I’d like to play both our frontline spinners” could see Tabraiz Shamsi making a comeback.
Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav will have their task cut out to stop Van der Dussen, Adrian Markram, Heinrich Klaasen and David Miller in the middle overs. With no Hardik Pandya, India will not have the sixth bowling option, but Dravid accepted it without complaints or worry. “Yes, of course, we probably won’t have that sixth bowling option in these games. But the response of the team and the players has been really good when we have not had it,” he stated.
There won’t be any shortage of Virat Kohli jerseys in the stands as the whole country will hope that the Indian ace will make his 35th birthday memorable by reaching Sachin Tendulkar’s record-equalling 49th ODI hundred, that too in a winning cause.