They have been preparing for this since 2015, finally the time arrives to put the plan into action. England, the host nation, will get the ICC 2019 Cricket World Cup rolling on day 1 of the event with a match against South Africa.
In the 2015 edition, England failed to even reach the quarter-finals after losing to Bangladesh. Following that disappointment, under their captain Eoin Morgan, the Three Lions decided to completely reboot their ODI strategy and play a far more aggressive and daring brand of cricket. Results were instantaneous as they started breaching the 400-run mark and chasing totals of around 350. Now, they go into the World Cup as the favourites. Will they live up to the huge expectation of claiming their first World Cup title?
On the other side are the South Africans, perennially trying to overcome the appellation of 'chokers.' In the last two editions of the event, they have been knocked out by New Zealand. This time, they are not inspiring as much hope as before. That may just relieve the pressure and make them play in a more relaxed and free-flowing style.
When and where to watch?
The opening encounter of the 2019 World Cup begins at 10:30 AM local time and 3 PM IST. Television viewers in India have multiple options. Star Sports, which holds the rights for telecasting ICC events, would be telecasting the game on Star Sports 1, Star Sports 2, Star Sports Select 1, Star Sports 1 HD, Star Sports 2 HD and Star Sports Select 1 HD. Hindi commentary would be available on Star Sports Hindi 1 and Star Sports Hindi 1 HD.
The match will also be telecasted in several regional languages on Star's vernacular channels. For those looking for online coverage, Hotstar is the destination.
While England's batting is in superlative form, a lot would depend on their bowling. Jofra Archer is certain to start but which two seamers would join him remains to be seen. It's most likely that Mark Wood and Chris Woakes would be the lucky ones. The former has shown the ability to rattle batsmen with pace. On the other hand, Woakes seems a very fine bowler with the new ball. A bit of cloud cover would make him even more dangerous.
Adil Rashid will be crucial for the hosts also. His success has been a key to England's terrific form in ODIs over the last couple of years. Moeen Ali provides great support to him with his accurate and parsimonious bowling. However, they will be up against one of the most capable batting line-ups against spin. The likes of Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis can be brutal against slower bowlers. The contest between them and the Rashid-Ali duo would be riveting.
South Africa's bowling unit looks more impressive with both Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi in the squad. However, the absence of Dale Steyn is going to leave a big hole. But they have a very potent leg-spinner in Imran Tahir whose form in the IPL was very encouraging.
What would have given the Proteas a great boost is the batting of Hashim Amla in the warm-up games. Having struggled with his form recently, there were doubts about him even getting selected. But the way he batted in these games and battled the tough conditions in the first of them suggests the bearded giant is getting back to form.
Essentially, both the batting line-ups are very strong, so, it becomes a battle between the bowling attacks. Whichever team gets the better of this contest, may well emerge the winner. There is always the x-factor of weather in matches played in England. What would happen if clouds come around? That may, ironically, favour the South Africans due to the presence of technically more efficient batsmen. The way Amla tackled the moving ball in the first practice match for his team is an example of this. England, on the other hand, have shown a propensity to bat only in a style of all-out aggression and hence, could struggle if the ball moves around.
Players to watch
Quinton de Kock: The left-hander has been in terrific form. He scored heavily in his team's last ODI series, against Sri Lanka at home, and seems to be timing the ball well. On the flat pitches that England has to offer, de Kock may be ruthless.
Kagiso Rabada: KG was the leading wicket taker in the IPL when he was forced to withdraw due to a niggle. But the way he bowled suggests the Proteas bowler is only getting better with time. His bowling might well be the trump card for the Proteas.
Jason Roy: While his opening partners have changed, Roy has established himself as a heavy-scoring performer who is equally dangerous whether his team is batting first or chasing. His form in the warm-up matches was exhilarating and it's hard not to see him getting big runs in this tournament also.
England: Jonny Bairstow, Jason Roy, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood, Jofra Archer
South Africa: Quinton de Kock, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, Rassie van der Dussen, Jean-Paul Duminy, David Miller, Kagiso Rabada, Chris Morris, Lungi Ngidi, Imran Tahir