It can be confirmed that rumours of the 2019 Cricket World Cup having begun on May 30 are, in fact, true. But for cricket fans from the most populous participating nation, the tournament begins today, when India play their first match.
Considering that India seem to have been in England for an eternity — they’ve had enough time to go paint balling in the woods and take selfies with Harry Kane — but have not yet been called up to play a match. As has been widely reported, this was to allow the team a sufficient gap, and rest, after the completion of the IPL, but it also gives them a significant advantage.
Not only have India had the chance to take a good look at that the opposition is doing — most would’ve played two of their league games before India takes the field — it allows them to see what the conditions are doing.
To say India are well rested would be an understatement. Even their option training session on the day before their first match was called off when showers drenched the Areas Bowl in Southampton on Tuesday. The news from a settled camp was good, though, with Kedav Jadhav having recovered completely from a shoulder injury to resume batting and bowling at full tilt. This means India will have a full complement of players to pick from when they put eleven on the park.
South Africa, and you have to feel for them, are at the very far end of the same spectrum. With Lungi Ngidi already doubtful came the killer blow when Dale Steyn suffered a second shoulder injury and was ruled out of playing “for the immediate future.” Steyn, the pre-eminent fast bowler of his generation, played briefly in the IPL, but returned home to give himself the best chance of being fit in time for the World Cup. With this not eventuating, South Africa called up Beuran Hendricks as a replacement, but any team without Steyn in it is significantly weakened.
The forecast for Wednesday isn’t great either, with showers predicted for some part of the afternoon, and India will be hoping that meteorologists have got it wrong, for nothing is as frustrating, and challenging to a team of stroke makers as spitting rain causing stops and starts and overcast conditions aiding out-and-out swing bowling.
South Africa, having been significantly weakened on the back of losses in both of their opening matches, will be looking at the India game as an opportunity. With nine matches to play in the league stage, their World Cup is far from over, but with each passing game they have less and less to lose. This can only mean a release of pressure of sorts, allowing the team to express themselves without inhibition.
“A lot is happening. There’s a lot of injuries, we’re zero from two (matches). So, for myself, it’s really important to stay strong,” said Faf du Plessis, captain of South Africa. “The team will feed off my energy and they will look up to the leadership group in the team. It is important that I stay strong, stay positive and keep motivating the guys.”
Du Plessis’s opposite number, Kohli, turned up to the pre-match press conference — no dramas over sending out net bowlers or press boycotts on the day — looking like a bearded Harry Potter, spectacles resting on the tip of his nose as he patiently set out India’s position. “Well, firstly, we are very happy that finally we are going to start playing. It’s been a while since we have been here,” said Kohli. “I think it is a bit of an advantage, I have to say, in terms of understanding how the games have gone, what the conditions have to offer, what the overcast conditions bring into play when the sun is out. It’s a totally different ball game altogether what the conditions are at 10.30 in the morning compared to afternoon. And what is the pace of play, when you see other teams playing and what the approach is. So I think from that point of view, we have a lot to absorb. We have a lot to learn from, looking at the other teams play, the teams that have done well, what have they done well and in what phases? From that point of view, we would say that we have a lot of positives that we can take out of starting after everyone else.”
The batting wizard is on the cusp of a unique achievement, having scored centuries in the opening matches of the past two World Cups he has played in, but the completion of a hat-trick was not on his mind. “When I walk out to bat, people will say we need a hundred.That’s just a part of the process now. It’s not something that I don’t want to hear, or something that I think people should not tell me because when you do well, people obviously want to see you do well again and again because they want to see the team win,” said Kohli. “So my focus is again, if I’m in a position to be able to do that again [well and good], but more importantly is ito make the team win, that will be my goal. And if it takes a hundred runs, 150, 50, 60, 70, 40, whatever it is, I’m ready to do that.”
Now it’s a matter of finding out if the opposition is ready as well.
This article first appeared in the Economic Times newspaper