SOUTHAMPTON – Virat Kohli's India will unleash their formidable pace attack against beleaguered South Africa when the title contenders open their World Cup campaign on Wednesday.
India are the last of the 10 teams to launch their challenge in England and Wales and they start against a South Africa side already in turmoil after losing their first two matches.
The two-time world champions plan to push South Africa towards elimination in Southampton by deploying a feared bowling line-up led by Jasprit Bumrah, the top-ranked one-day international bowler in the world.
Bumrah is ably supported by fellow quicks Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Hardik Pandya.
Wrist spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal lend variety to India's attack, but their primary weapon in seaming English conditions will be the pace bowlers.
“Bowling is going to be India's strength,” former batsman Sanjay Manjrekar told AFP.
“India would be favourites alongside Australia and England. New Zealand are the dark horses. The rest are all underdogs.”
Kohli, in his first 50-over World Cup as captain, is the key to India's batting, with his 10,843 runs in 227 ODI matches at an average of 59.57.
The 30-year-old's importance to India is not lost on South African pace bowler Kagiso Rabada, who tried some mind games ahead of their potentially feisty clash when he called the skipper “very immature”.
“I was just thinking about the game plan, really, but Virat, he hit me for a boundary and then he had a word (during an Indian Premier League game). And then when you give it back to him, he gets angry,” Rabada told cricinfo.
“I don't get the guy. Maybe he does it because it gets him going, but that comes across as very immature for me. He is a phenomenal player but he can't take the abuse.”
'Strange things happen'
Rabada leads South Africa's injury-hit pace attack, with Lungi Ngidi sidelined after suffering a hamstring strain in Sunday's defeat against Bangladesh.
Veteran paceman Dale Steyn is also a doubt after missing the first two games with a shoulder injury.
But Faf du Plessis's side expect to be bolstered by the return of batting star Hashim Amla, who missed the last game after being hit on the head by a Jofra Archer bouncer against England.
Thrashed by England in their tournament opener, the Proteas' 21-run defeat against Bangladesh at the Oval has put them in a perilous position.
But South Africa all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo is confident his team can still make amends for their wretched start.
“There have been some bad days in my career. I've learned, and the team has learned, that it is not the end of the world,” the 23-year-old said.
“We can always bounce back, we are a team that bounces back, from situations and we will definitely do it again.”
South Africa great Jaques Kallis believes taking advantage of potential first-match rustiness from India could be his former team's best hope of getting back on track.
“It doesn't get any easier against India but it's their first game and our third, so maybe that could give us the edge we need,” Kallis said.
“Strange things happen in this sport and if we can get a win then I think we are still good enough to be a contender.”
Agence France-Presse (AFP)