BY WASIM PARKAR – FAN FUEL BLOGGER
The first semi-final of the ICC Champions Trophy 2013 between England and South Africa at the Oval promises to be an exciting and close affair. I look ahead to the key battles that will be crucial in deciding the game.
James Anderson vs. Hashim Amla
Anderson has been the best new ball bowler in the tournament. Even when conditions haven’t been conducive to swing, Anderson’s ability to consistently deliver the ball on the right line and length allied with slight deviation has caused plenty of problems for the opposition opening batsmen.
Between South Africa’s two openers, Amla has the experience and technique to weather Anderson’s dangerous opening overs. If Amla succeeds in holding out one end, the Proteas middle order can take advantage by taking the attack to England’s other bowlers. If Amla is removed early however, then England can maintain a stranglehold on South Africa’s batting.
Dale Steyn vs. England’s top three
After missing the first two matches due to injury, Dale Steyn is back in the side and immediately South Africa look a better team. With conditions expected to be damp and overcast, Steyn will relish moving the ball around at pace.
Against such a formidable threat with the new ball, people might finally realize the advantage of having a technically sound top three in Alistair Cook, Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell. If Steyn’s opening salvo can be negated, then the top order could build a platform for the middle order to tee off at the end of the innings. On the other hand, if Steyn succeeds, then a young middle order will be under tremendous pressure in front of a home crowd in a knockout match.
The battle of the big-hitters
Both teams have already played and come out on top in rain-shortened-matches in the group stages. With more rain in the forecast for Wednesday, the likelihood of the teams playing less than 50 overs is pretty high.
The shorter the game, the greater the importance of hitting big and scoring fast. The pitch at the Oval has stayed true through most of the tournament, and one also has to consider the fact that neither team possess an attack that is particularly adept at bowling in the slog overs. This could set the stage for a battle between the big-hitters on both sides.
England are due a performance from Eoin Morgan. If Morgan fails, England can rely on Joe Root, Ravi Bopara and the dangerous but yet unproved Jos Butler. South Africa on the other hand have batsmen all across the order who can hit at a strike rate of more than 100. Leading from the top are Colin Ingram and AB de Villiers, followed by Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy, David Miller, Robin Peterson and Ryan McLaren.
The “choke” factor
No reasonable analysis of a match featuring South Africa in a knockout round in an ICC tournament can be concluded without looking at the mental factor. South Africa have regularly failed at the first knockout hurdle after excelling in the group stages.
One always has to ask the question, “Will it be different this time around?” I guess it’s not inconceivable. For starters, usually South Africa look like the best team before choking in a knockout fixture. In fact, South Africa started this tournament looking poor, before coming on towards the end of the group stages. Could they be peaking at the right time for once?
This is also coach Gary Kirsten’s last tournament. The players have grown a strong bond with Kirsten, and what could be greater motivation for them than sending him off with a Champions Trophy victory. Will that motivation prove strong enough to overcome their history of failure in the knockout stages? I guess we’ll find out in a day’s time, but it does some inevitable that South Africa’s mental toughness will be put to the test if they are to succeed in the semi-final.