ICC Champions Trophy is reaching its climax and the defending champions India will take on South Africa at the picturesque The Oval on Sunday. South Africa, No 1 ranked and India, No 3 ranked in the ICC rankings will battle it out for the spot in the semi-finals. The match promises to be a humdinger and the team that can absorb pressure will emerge victorious.
Indian openers vs SA pacers
The battle between Indian openers and Proteas pacers will set the tone for the match. Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan have already put on two century plus stand against Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The magnitude of the battle will increase as South African pacers are quick and aggressive. Dhawan has happy memories of facing SA quicks (scoring hundreds in 2013 CT, 2015 WC) and Rohit Sharma has found his form at the right time. The openers have contrasting styles and understand their role very well (10 hundred stands). Dhawan and Sharma would face a stiff challenge and if they could survive the opening spell by the likes of Kagiso Rabada, Wayne Parnell and Morne Morkel then India would go a long way in winning the match.
Rabada vs Kohli
Indian skipper relishes big matches and lives for moments that define the outcome of the game. The Delhi lad already has 27 ODI hundreds and is a big match player. Kagiso Rabada (No 1 ranked bowler) is bowling beautifully and will pose a challenge to Kohli. Kohli so far has looked sub-par without playing his typical match winning innings. Rabada can crank it up to over 145 km/h and will have Virat Kohli in his sights. If the pacer gets rid of Kohli then it will like taking the head of the snake and dismantling the rest of the team.
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AB de Villiers vs AB de Villiers
It comes as a total surprise that de Villiers has been totally out of sorts in this tournament. The maverick cricketer is fighting inner demons and question marks have been raised against his batting and leadership. The skipper got out for a golden duck against Pakistan (first time in his ODI career) and is showing nervousness and anxiety that we haven’t seen before. De Villiers has 24 ODI centuries, but last scored a hundred against England in early 2016. The impact that de Villiers has is astonishing and if the protea player finds his form then the contest will go to another level.
Indian spinners vs SA batters
South Africa have traditionally struggled against quality spin bowing. The match against Pakistan showed Proteas batsman looking unsure against Mohammad Hafeez and Imad Wasim. Indian spin attack is much better than Pakistan’s and India would definitely play Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja to strangle South Africa in the middle overs. SA, apart from Hashim Amla, who is a very good player of spin, has de Villiers (poor record against left arm spin), JP Duminy, David Miller and Quinton de Kock like ball coming on to the bat rather than trying to force the issue. It will be a battle of wit and attrition for SA against Indian slow bowlers.
MS Dhoni vs Imran Tahir
This match up will define the contest and Imran Tahir (No 2 in ICC rankings) will not take backseat against former skipper of India Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Dhoni usually takes time to settle in and if Tahir has a good day then SA will feel good. Tahir has all the variations up his sleeve and knows Dhoni’s game plan very well (recently shared dressing room for RPS in the IPL). The Pakistan born leg spinner is a banker for SA in the middle overs and Dhoni will find it hard to score against the wily leg spinner. The good news for India is that Dhoni is looking like his old self and if he neutralises Tahir then SA will be short of ideas.
The tag of chokers vs champions
In recent times over the last decade India have been accustomed to winning trophies (2007 ICC World T20, South Africa, 2011 ICC World Cup, India, 2013 ICC CT, England) and are currently the No 1 ranked team in Test cricket. The record of South Africa has been very poor considering the talent they possess. India also has upper hand over the rainbow nation (winning 2013 CT league match, 2014 WT20 semi-final, 2015 WC league match). South Africa after winning first edition of CT have nothing to show for in their trophy cabinet. India, with the advent of IPL are masters in coping with pressure situations and SA invariably chokes under pressure. The teams will be aware of the fact and it could all come down to winning big moments in the game and SA would like to set the record straight and shed the tag of chokers once and for all.