For South Africa, typically imposing. Dispatched West Indies with consummate ease in a recent 4-1 series victory, though the mess that their opponents find themselves in mean that is not perhaps the best guide. Nevertheless, they will arrive with supreme confidence and so they should. Sounds familiar, though, doesn’t it?
India, on the other hand, have little reason to be optimistic. The Tri-Series was a real struggle for them, and was far from the first time they have flagged badly towards the end of a long tour. The prospect of another 6 weeks in Australia will be wearing heavily, and they will need to some strong early performances to get them going again.
AB De Villiers. Hashim Amla. In those two South Africa boast men that can’t stop scoring runs, and haven’t been able to stop for many years now. They are probably one successful tournament away from joining Kumar Sangakarra as the best batsmen of this generation. That mindbogglingly brilliant hundred from De Villiers in the West Indies Series, the quickest in ODI history, suggests he is more than ready to step up to the plate. If it clicks, they can chase down any score. Don’t bet against one of these two breaking another clutch of records in this tournament.
They back that up with a fearsome seam attack. Dale Steyn: The number one strike bowler in world cricket. One of the few bowlers in this tournament with the ability to turn a game on its head in one spell. He is certainly the only one who can swing it both ways above 90 mph. He will also be relishing the chance to to try and take the limelight from his peer Mitchell Johnson on his home turf. Morne Morkel: Consistent, quick and with a natural length perfect for the bouncy pitches of Australia. Vernon Philander: A bowler with limited pace but with utterly beguiling skill. Whatever the pitch, whatever the opponent, whatever the occasion: he will hit a perfect line and length and ask questions of the batsman.
The batting firepower of India is absolutely ludicrous. Virat Kohli needs no introduction, his record in this format of the game is stunning. He seems to thrive both on the competitive atmosphere in Australia and also the quick nature of the pitches. Must be very short odds on being the tournament’s leading run scorer. Rohit Sharma, meanwhile, will be competing with Glenn Maxwell to be the player who flies between the sublime and the brainless most comfortably. We are, however, talking about a player who can hit 264 in an ODI. Add Suresh Raina, who has developed into a genuine superstar thanks to the IPL, to the equation, and you have a frightening middle order.
Then you come to MS Dhoni. His captaincy is often infuriating, he can seem totally disinterested and happy to let the game drift away from his team. This is the World Cup, though, and he delivers on this stage. Still the best finisher in this format on the planet, his nous and ice cool temperament could still bring India home.
Imran Tahir was supposed to be the final piece of the puzzle for South Africa, the spin option that completed this prodigiously talented team. He has never really convinced, though, and is probably running out of time to do so. He should enjoy the pitches, though, and if other teams see him as the weak link, he could pick up wickets for fun as they go on the attack.
If they perform anywhere near their best, the only team that can beat them is themselves. Their reputation as cricket’s ‘bottlers’ seems to come back to haunt them at every major tournament, and the pressure will thus be enormous when the latter stages come around.
That India have been weakened by the loss of Ishant Sharma tells you everything you need to know about their bowling attack, probably the weakest of all the big teams. They lack pace and threat in the early overs, which could be a disaster against the likes of Australia and South Africa. Conditions exacerbate this problem. Their main threat Ravichandran Ashwin may be nullified somewhat by the pitches and the conditions. It is just very difficult to see how they will take 10 wickets against the more formidable batting line ups.
Francois Du Plessis – It took him a long time to cement his place in this team, but he has finally done so. Hitting the ball cleanly has never been a problem for him, but only recently has he begun to show the patience and composure required to score big hundreds at test level. Given this, he should feel confident that he can deliver when the pressure is on. They can’t rely on Amla and De Villers every game, and it will be Du Plessis they turn to first.
Ravi Jadeja – He is the man MS Dhoni turns to time and time again when the heat is on. At his best, he is a canny, skilful operator who has undone teams in this format over and over again. When not at his best, he can be toothless, lacking real variation and attacking threat. Conditions in Australia and New Zealand seem unlikely to play to his strengths, but India really need to him to perform if they are to stand any chance.
Rilee Rossouw – Despite an underwhelming start to his ODI career, Rossouw announced himself on the international stage with two terrific hundreds in the recent series against the West Indies. If he can replicate that form in this tournament, he will be the perfect foil for Hashim Amla at the top of the order.
Ajinkya Rahane – Amongst the numerous dismal showings in the Test Series against England last summer, Rahane was the sole shining light. He has a beautifully simple and uncomplicated technique, which will suit him well playing at the top of the order against the two new balls. He may possess the star quality of his peers in the India order, but he is just as capable of scoring big, critical hundreds.
Game to watch
South Africa vs UAE. We might see the biggest ever score. De Villiers or Amla might score a triple hundred. Steyn might take a wicket every ball. OK, maybe that is a bit hyperbolic but really the only South Africa games worth watching will be in the knockout stages.
India vs Pakistan
The biggest game in world cricket. Without a doubt. No two countries create as much excitement on or off the field as these two giants.
South Africa just have to win it. Only Australia can come close to matching their all round talent and only historic psychological barriers seem to stand in their way. The conditions shouldn’t be a problem, so there are simply no excuses.
India unquestionably have the batting to win this tournament, but the bowling attack does not look potent enough. Unlikely to beat Australia or South Africa, and could be vulnerable to an in form Sri Lanka, New Zealand or England. Semi-Finals.