After recording opening wins, India and South Africa will look to make a strong statement about their World Cup title credentials when the two contenders clash at the famed Melbourne Cricket Ground on Sunday, local time. Both sides secured victories over their local rivals to begin their campaigns in Australia and New Zealand, But, while South Africa’s defeat of Zimbabwe met expectations, India’s win in the hotly anticipated duel with Pakistan will have done wonders for confidence after the 2011 champions endured terrible form coming into the event.
India had failed to win a single game in the Tri-Series Down Under against Australia and England, with many suggesting that Pakistan had their best ever chance to beat their neighbors for the first time in a World Cup. Instead, Mahendra Singh Dohni’s side took their record to 6-0 with a 76-run win in Adelaide. And in what was India’s first World Cup meeting with Pakistan without long-time talisman Sachin Tendulkar, the man who has assumed his mantle, Virat Kohli, outlined his class with a century.
South Africa, though, present a very different proposition. In a reverse of the scenario entering their previous match, it is India that has never beaten South Africa in a World Cup. But history is not the only obstacle. South Africa entered the competition as one of the leading favorites and possess the two best-ranked one-day-international batsman in the world, in the shape of captain AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla. While neither delivered a big score to open the World Cup, South Africa had enough to get past Zimbabwe by 62 runs on the back of centuries from David Miller and JP Duminy.
India will also face a contrasting bowling attack this weekend. Although Dale Steyn recorded modest figures against Zimbabwe and has been battling a sinus infection, he has returned to health and will be part of a fast-paced assault on Kohli and Co. Yet, rather than their quality batting and bowling, it is South Africa’s fielding that Tendulkar believes could represent the biggest step up in class India will confront.
“It won't be so easy to pick singles," Tendulkar told Headlines Today TV. “[South Africa] are much faster, their throwing arm is more powerful and their outfielding ... they cover the area much better than Pakistan.”
A victory on Sunday could be psychologically significant for either side going forward in the competition, but it could also have a major impact on the ease of their paths to the latter stages. A place in the top two of Pool B looks likely to ensure that the two in-form favorites and co-hosts Australia and New Zealand will be avoided in the quarterfinals.
That could be particularly significant for South Africa, who are chasing their country’s first ever World Cup title after a serious of calamitous disappointments in the latter stages of previous tournaments. Despite those mental scars and an expectation back home that this could be the team to finally deliver the prize, coach Russell Domingo believes it is the body not the mind that holds the key.
“We have not had a psychologist with us for the past eight or nine months. I'd like our team to focus on their skills,” Domingo said, reports ESPN CricInfo. “If you get your skills right, you can mentally get yourself into a good space to execute under pressure, not the other way round. You can't be mentally strong but have bad skills.”
Match time: Local: 2:30 p.m., Sunday. EST: 10:30 p.m., Saturday.
TV channel: DISH Network, Mediacom and Time Warner Cable subscribers can watch the match via pay per view. More info here.