After getting their defense of the World Cup off to a perfect start by beating fierce rivals Pakistan in Adelaide, India face one of the favorites for the title, South Africa, at the famed Melbourne Cricket Ground on Sunday. With a record audience for a cricket match thought to be watching on television sets around the world, India defeated their neighbors by 76 runs to make it six wins out of six against Pakistan in World Cups.
It was a morale-boosting victory for an India side that had come into the competition after a miserable run of form in one-day internationals and was contesting their first World Cup match since 1987 without legendary batsman Sachin Tendulkar. But Tendulkar is among those who believe that the meeting with South Africa will be a very different proposition.
“It won't be so easy to pick singles,” Tendulkar told Headlines Today TV, according to the Times of India. “They [South Africa] are much faster, their throwing arm is more powerful and their outfielding ... they cover the area much better than Pakistan.”
India had looked vulnerable ahead of the highly anticipated contest with Pakistan after failing to win a single match in the Tri-Series with Australia and England last month. But Tendulkar’s heir-apparent as the star of the India team, Virat Kohli, stepped up to the mark, firing 107 to lead Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s side to a total of 300-7 when batting first. And Kohli stated afterward that he was relishing the weight of expectation that comes with comparisons to the great Tendulkar.
“It’s a really big compliment,” he said, reports Sky Sports. “Expectations are going to be there when you do well for your country but I just look to stand up to them because I hate losing. It’s probably one of the biggest innings I’ve had in my career so far and just an amazing day for us to start this World Cup -- a very important, pressure-filled game against Pakistan.”
While Kohli lived up to the pressure on his shoulders, South Africa’s star, and the man ranked as the best batsman in the world in the 50-over format, AB de Villiers struggled to a score of 25 before being dismissed against unfancied Zimbabwe. At the time he was dismissed, South Africa had fallen to 83-4 and looked in some danger of falling victim to a major upset. But David Miller and JP Duminy fired a record one-day international fifth-wicket partnership of 256 to post a strong total, before South Africa’s bowlers did the rest to see them prevail by 62 runs in Hamilton.
“I am very happy at the performance, we had a really good game today,” he said, according to ABC Australia. “There is no doubt that [the pitch] played a good part in getting them ahead early on as it was a really difficult wicket to bat on in the first 15 to 20 overs. It got easier and luckily David and JP made full use of that and played exceptionally well in that great partnership that won us the game today.”
South Africa arrived at the World Cup highly fancied, with a batting lineup led by De Villiers and Hashim Amla and a bowling attack spearheaded Dale Steyn. But they also face the burden of trying to win the trophy for the first time, having previously succumbed to a number of spectacular failures in the latter stages. Their record against India at the World Cup is significantly healthier, however, having won all three of the countries’ previous meetings on the big stage.
Prediction: This should be an enthralling contest that could go right down to the wire, with the evidence of this World Cup so far suggesting whoever bats first could have a key advantage. But South Africa’s batting may just be too strong for the Indian bowling attack.
Schedule: The Pool B match will begin at 2:30 p.m. local time on Sunday in Melbourne, 10:30 p.m., Saturday, EST.