Ben Stokes is all set to play his first game of the ongoing World Cup on Saturday and England will need their ‘messiah’ to give them hope of a renewed vigour in their campaign.
The defending champions fell face-first in their last game against Afghanistan. And it was not their first loss of the tournament, having lost the opener versus New Zealand. England take on South Africa at the Wankhede in Mumbai.
Stokes denies to own the ‘messiah’ tag, though head coach Matthew Mott calls him the “spiritual leader” of the side. But it is a fact that an England side with Stokes in it looks far more balanced and menacing, even though Stokes will only play as a specialist batter and not an all-rounder.
It was Stokes’ magic touch which earned England their maiden World Cup four years back. But that was at their home, on familiar pitches. Here in India, it is a completely different challenge and Stokes will have to dig deep into his resources.
South Africa’s Quinton de Kock. Getty Images
In what could be counted as somewhat of a relief for England, their opponents on Saturday will perhaps take the field with an equally battered confidence having been humbled by the Netherlands in their last game.
The Proteas had begun the tournament on a promising note with back-to-back victories, but lost the plot completely against the Dutch. Their bowlers were guilty of letting the Dutch off the hook even after removing half their side. Such lapses could prove fatal against a side like England, who are loaded with powerful batters.
Having said that, the South African batters, barring the game against the Netherlands, too have built a big-hitting reputation in this World Cup so far. They muscled their way to a 400-plus total against Sri Lanka and the likes of Quinton de Kock and Aiden Markram can inflict serious damage on any bowling attack.
Harry Brook. Getty Images
If Stokes comes back into the team, England will have to rethink their XI and so expect quite a few changes. With Sam Curran and Chris Woakes being largely off-colour so far, England may try other combinations on Saturday.
Temba Bavuma, however, is unlikely to tinker much with his team.
Saturday’s match will be the first in Mumbai in this edition of the World Cup. The Wankhede, with shorter boundaries, is an ideal set-up for big totals. The pitch, though on the flatter side, does help bowlers at times. So it will be important for both teams to select their players wisely.
England enjoy a 4-3 head-to-head record against the Proteas in World Cups, but that will be of little significance on Saturday.
Buttler’s men hungry
Mumbai: One lost to Afghanistan, the other to the Netherlands, but England captain Jos Buttler say they have moved on, and are “hungry” to face South Africa.
Saturday’s fixture is crucial for both to get their campaign back on track, with the loser facing a potentially uphill battle to make the final four.
“We have moved on and had some good conversations and the energy and hunger around practice has been very high,” Buttler told reporters on Friday. “They (South Africa) have been playing some really good cricket, their top six is really strong and they have pace with the ball. Both teams like (to face) pace on the ball, so it should really be a fascinating contest.”
The Wankhede pitch, “a fantastic cricket wicket,” Buttler said should suit them as they want to find ways to make a play and put the opposition under pressure.