LONDON – On an opening day that was filled with surprises, everything ultimately played out to script.
The World’s No 1 team, England, confirmed their status as pre-tournament favourites. South Africa, in contrast, remain a team searching for its best combinations and are potentially one of the outsiders looking in.
To be fair to the Proteas, yesterday’s defeat by 104 runs, was not as entirely one-sided as the scoreboard reflects. There were periods where the capacity Oval crowd that had come out expecting an England victory were visibly apprehensive.
The visitors’ dressing-room would certainly have been cock-a-hoop at the lunch interval. SA had done exceptionally well to restrict the hosts to 311/8 through some disciplined bowling, excellent catching, and innovative tactics from captain Faf du Plessis.
England, and in particular Jonny Bairstow, had been caught off guard when leg-spinner Imran Tahir opened the bowling. From thereon Du Plessis manoeuvred his bowling unit like a grandmaster at the chess table. He made 17 bowling changes in total.
At that point, the stage was being set for an intriguing contest that the World Cup organisers would have been yearning for. It wasn’t to be, but the opening game did deliver a new star that is set to enthral viewers for the next six-and-a-half weeks. It took just one ball for the Jofra Archer to show the world that he really means business.
With his impressive gold chain swinging from side to side, he unleashed a nasty bouncer off a length that gave Hashim Amla no time to play a shot or evade the oncoming missile.
Only the grill of his helmet saved him from some serious damage, but it was still severe enough for the veteran Protea to leave the field - only to return when the fat lady had already warmed up her vocal chords at No 7.
The door to the Proteas middle order was now open and the English rookie came storming through. Aiden Markram was the first to succumb to Archer’s pace and skill before Du Plessis and Rassie van der Dussen followed.
There were questions leading up to the World Cup that England’s bowling may be their weakest link. With Archer now charging in the light blues, it has been transformed into a strength.
SA, meanwhile, only have two days to shore up their deficiencies. Markram may be young, but he will need to learn a lot quicker if he is to be an ODI success. A few rasping drives is routinely being followed by a loose shot outside the off-stump.
Equally, veteran JP Duminy has to offer SA more for it to be a balanced unit. His dismissal, caught down at long-off, was simply amateurish.
In the context of the length of the tournament, Du Plessis and coach Ottis Gibson did stress that defeat in the opening game would not be the end of the world. And it certainly isn’t with Van der Dussen and Quinton de Kock providing some positives to move forward with two quality half-centuries.
For the rest, there is just two days to fix their faults before the next clash against Bangladesh at The Oval on Sunday.@ZaahierAdams