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Cricket World Cup 2019 | Run-Fest On Cards as South Africa Take on England in Delicious Opener

Firdose Moonda |May 30, 2019, 7:45 AM IST
Cricket World Cup 2019 | Run-Fest On Cards as South Africa Take on England in Delicious Opener

We may not need to wait for Australia against Afghanistan in Bristol or West Indies against Bangladesh in Taunton or any match against Sri Lanka’s ailing attack to see the long-awaited 500-plus score in a One-Day International. It could come as soon as the first game.

Sure, England and South Africa have bowling attacks which are the envy of most squads but their recent batting history could take centre stage at the tournament opener on Thursday.

Since January 2015, these two teams have breached scores of 400 four times each. Australia are the only other team to have scored more than 400 in that time, and they managed it only once, putting England and South Africa in a different league. And the stage is perfectly set to pit them against each other, with all expectations (apart from the ones on the team to break their trophy drought and win the World Cup) that the first match will be a high-scoring affair.

“It’s going to be dominated by the bat again,” Eoin Morgan said ahead of the first game. He didn’t say whose bat, but we can take our guesses with a quick scan of the tallest totals of the last four years.

South Africa’s 400-plus scores came in 2015, two of them at that World Cup. They warmed up for the tournament with 439 for 2 against West Indies in Johannesburg, then scored 408 for 5 against West Indies in Sydney, followed by 411 for 4 against Ireland in Canberra and 438 for 4 against India in Mumbai later that year. AB de Villiers scored centuries in three of those matches, including the fastest ODI hundred. While he won’t be around to repeat that in this World Cup, Hashim Amla, who has contributed two triple-figure scores in those four games and Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis, who scored one each, are.

Du Plessis was wary of predicting too many milestones but agreed that his men have begun to adopt a more attacking batting strategy. “I am looking to getting started on these wickets but at every ground, you’ve got to make sure you see what the conditions are like and make a game plan from there. You can’t just think today we will score 500 and start swinging from the get-go,” he said. “We know that in the first hour, there’s a bit of spice so am not focusing on 500 as a score but the way we have been trying to play is in trying to be more aggressive.”

The tame-ish talk perhaps explains why South Africa are not spoken about as among the A-list line-ups at the tournament. That label has been stuck on India, Australia and overwhelming, England, for whom putting up big scores has become something of an obsession.

Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy in action. (Twitter/ Cricket World Cup) Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy in action. (Twitter/ Cricket World Cup)

Their first two totals over 400 in the last four years were the 408 for 9 against New Zealand in Birmingham and 444 for 3 against Pakistan in Nottingham. Their other two have come in the last year - 481 for 6 against Australia at Trent Bridge in June 2018 and 418 for 6 against West Indies in Grenada this February. They also have an absentee aggressor in Alex Hales who was responsible for two of the seven hundreds scored in these matches but they have four present and powerful hitters. Joe Root, Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow and Eoin Morgan also hit hundreds in the four matches mentioned.

Interestingly, all century-scorers have a significant amount of experience. There will be breakout performances from young guns but increasingly, this looks like a World Cup that will be won with wisdom, and both Morgan and du Plessis appear to have plenty. Neither showed the “desperation,” as du Plessis put it of teams past, for whom winning the World Cup was the only thing that mattered. Morgan even disagreed with a question that asked if this was “now or never,” for England to become champions. Both of them spoke about enjoying small moments and understanding that while this World Cup is important, it is not everything.

"In the absolute worst case scenario, you don't make it, and that’s ok,” du Plessis said. “The focus is on making sure we really have a good time and that comes with age. When you are intense and desperate, that's when you make mistakes. We want to have quite a calm intensity. If we win against England tomorrow, it won't be like we’ve won the World Cup, it will be the same as if we lose.”

But it won’t, really.

A win for either team will set the tone and the manner of that win will be an important marker for how the rest of the tournament could unfold. A run-fest will let the other eight teams in the competition know where the early standard has been set, will invite the batsmen across the sides to consider what kind of innovation they will employ and will send a message to the bowlers about how serious the task of damage limitation and how important the creativity in their variations will have to be. And the opposite could happen too. A low-scoring thriller may mark a throwback to twenty years ago when in this same green and fair land, the World Cup was played.

Then, England were forgettable, booted out in the first round though Morgan says he remembers the day “like it was yesterday.” South Africa were memorable and set to go all the way before you-know-what in the semi-final. It has haunted them ever since.

Now, these two teams meet again, having not faced each other in two years since before the Champions Trophy in 2017, with the opportunity to make their own history. Maybe that will be 500 runs, maybe it will be with a first World Cup; either way, it’s going to be fun.

Squads:

England: Eoin Morgan (capt), Moeen Ali, Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Jos Buttler (wk), Tom Curran, Liam Dawson, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, James Vince, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood.

South Africa: Faf du Plessis (capt), Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock (wk), JP Duminy, Aiden Markram, David Miller, Chris Morris, Lungi Ngidi, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Dale Steyn, Imran Tahir, Rassie van der Dussen.

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Team Rankings

Rank Team Points Rating
1 India 3631 113
2 New Zealand 2547 111
3 South Africa 2917 108
4 England 3778 105
5 Australia 2640 98
see more
Rank Team Points Rating
1 England 6745 125
2 India 7071 122
3 New Zealand 4837 112
4 Australia 5543 111
5 South Africa 5193 110
see more
Rank Team Points Rating
1 Pakistan 7365 283
2 England 4253 266
3 South Africa 4196 262
4 India 8099 261
5 Australia 5471 261
see more
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