LONDON – South Africa were full of tricks on the first day of this 12th edition of the ICC World Cup.
Even before the game had begun, they sprung a surprise that very few would have seen coming.
Aiden Markram’s impressive form for the Titans and Hampshire leading up to this grand occasion was considered sufficient to displace David Miller.
Dwaine Pretorius also got the nod over Chris Morris as the second all-rounder.
But that was not even close to the real joker Faf du Plessis was hiding in his pack.
The poker-faced South African skipper turned to his ace leg-spinner Imran Tahir to deliver the first over after electing to insert arguably the strongest batting unit in the world.
It was a calculated gamble, for it was a plan South Africa have been working on for the best part of 18 months, dating back to a home series against Zimbabwe.
The plan reaped immediate dividends when Tahir removed Jonny Bairstow with only the second ball of the tournament.
A capacity crowd was stunned into silence, bar the smattering of ecstatic green shirts dotted around the ground.
England recovered through four half-centuries from Ben Stokes (89), Eoin Morgan (57), Jason Roy (54) and Joe Root (51) to ultimately get to 311/8.
But considering the batting firepower the hosts possess, the Proteas would head into the interval well pleased with their efforts in the field.
South Africa always seemed to be in control of the situation – not something many fielding teams have experienced against England in the recent past – and managed to keep the run-rate in check by taking wickets throughout the innings.
The momentum England were searching for to really get their innings going never materialised.
This had plenty to do with Du Plessis’ superb leadership skills in the way he managed his bowlers’ spells.
He almost turned it into a T20 contest, with bowlers often being called on for just one- or two-over spells, and it had the desired effect.
Now it is the turn of the batsmen to do their jobs.
England: 311/8 (Ngidi 3/66, Tahir 2/61, Stokes 89, Morgan 57, Roy 54, Root 51)
South Africa require 312 runs to win.
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