India beat South Africa convincingly in the opening fixture of the ICC Champions trophy for two main reasons, Shikar Dhawan and Ravindra Jadeja. The former scored 114 off 94 to set a huge platform whilst the latter scored a blistering 47 off just 29 to propel India to a mammoth total of 331.
England will need one of their top four to score a hundred if they stand a chance of progressing to the Final. The likelihood of someone scoring a Jadeja-esque quickfire 40 or 50 lower down the order remains a higher possibility than any of the top four getting a ton. England captain Alistair Cook has scored two consecutive half centuries and looks in good touch but he hasn't scored a hundred in a year (23 innings). Ian Bell's 91 against an ordinary Australian bowling outfit may have gained a man of the match performance but since then as the tournament has progressed/pressure increased he's unfortunately folded. In fact in total he's scored a measly 3 centuries in a staggering 129 outings for England(Shikar Dhawan has 2 from 8 innings) and while stats don't perhaps tell the whole story in the short term, they do in the long run. At the wicket he's often referred to having an aesthetically pleasing technique. His stats however whilst not ugly, fail to inspire any confidence given the task at hand. Joe Root has been given freedom of the England team for the next decade at least which means like Bell even if he doesn't score a century in his next 31 innings his place in the England's ODI squad is safe. (It took Bell 45 innings to reach his first ODI hundred) That leaves Jonathan Trott as the best chance England have of a top four hundred, the chances of which are actually not so slim. The fact is Trott is arguably the most reliable batsman in the team. Any player averaging 51 after 60 innings has to have some form of genius in maintaining that level of consistency of performances. He may have only reached a strike rate of 100+ in only 7 of those 60 innings but the stark reality remains that he has a remarkable habit of scoring runs. Runs England desperately need given a certain Dale Steyn looks odds on to play at the Oval.
For the South Africans the problem merely lies in the mind. On paper they have incredible depth in batting and a bowling attack led by Dale Steyn that is formidable. The question is, whether they'll be relaxed enough to perform at levels they're capable of on the day, only time will tell. Perhaps the fortunes of Hasim Amla will play a big part in their success or failure. Amla is not only the best batsman in the tournament, he's the most unflappable character is world cricket. His calm. relax demeanor in extreme pressure situations is just remarkable. If he remains at the crease for a significant period of time the likelihood of him scoring a big ton is high but just as high are the chances he'll relax his batting partners into performing to their maximum levels. England's bowlers led by Jimmy Anderson will thus be plotting to set up some sort of an ambush for luring out Amla early in the innings. Otherwise it could well be curtains for them and another disappointing outing in a home tournament.
Amla vs Anderson
Jimmy isn't shy of following through on his run up and chucking a few f-bombs at the batsman. But if the ball doesn't swing and Amla's Gandhi-esque stance on confrontation renders that strategy, what then?
Steyn vs Trott
opposites will certainly be attracting in this encounter. Steyn will be as equally fired up as Trott will be sedate. Trott's importance to the order means if Steyn does win this particular battle. England's chances of reachign the final may diminish very quickly.
One to watch South Africa: FAF Du Plessis has had a fairly quiet tournament thus far. However like Amla he's another character in the South African team that exudes a calm and relaxed manner which will be an important asset in this fixture. His ability to change the course of the game, whether it be with a brilliant piece of fielding or a destructive innings makes him a very dangerous player.
One to watch: Ravi Bopara has had to bat below young arrivals Root and Buttler in the order, something which has clearly raised his game. His figures of 2-26 off 5 overs were second only to Jimmy Anderson's (including the crucial wicket of Brendon McCullum) and proved instrumental in seeing England push through to this stage.
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Rana Malook is a Sports writer for HITC and blogs for ESPNCricinfo follow him @rararana