Chennai, March 5 (IANS) England face a test of character when they take on South Africa in a crucial Group B fixture of the ICC Cricket World Cup here Sunday.
Placed fourth in the group after a shock defeat to Ireland Wednesday, England’s collective morale and confidence are probably at their lowest despite assertions to the contrary from some players.
In contrast, the South Africans appear keen to seize the opportunity to avenge their 2-1 series loss at home in 2009.
If their current form is any guide, then it would surprise none if the Proteas chalk up their third win in a row that would virtually put them in the knock-out stage.
England skipper Andrew Strauss has a tough ask to rally his troops for a big effort to shrug off the Irish nightmare and win to keep them on course for a quarter-final berth.
England’s consistent performer Jonathan Trott perhaps best articulated the task: “It is up to each individual to perform and get his job done.”
The collective failure in Bangalore came just two days after England gave India a run for their money and tied a total of 338 in one of the finest ODI contests.
But Ireland muted the English euphoria.
Once again talk revolved around England’s massive 6-1 ODI series loss to Australia soon after winning the Ashes, reflecting poorly on the team’s readiness for the tournament. The results thus far have done little to negate such sentiments.
“We have been in such a situation before and always bounced back. We will bounce back again,” said former England captain Paul Collingwood, whose own form with the bat has not inspired others in the middle order.
South Africa, on their part, have enjoyed a comfortable start to their campaign with an easy win against the West Indies and followed it up with a crushing defeat of the Netherlands. AB de Villiers notched a century in both matches.
Although not fully stretched in either game, the South Africans showcased their all-round strength with quality fielding, adding another dimension to their performance.
While their top order batsmen ran into form, with Hashim Amla too helping himself to a century against the Dutch, the Proteas are more than satisfied that their “surprise” choice of leg-spinner Imran Tahir.
The 31-year-old player of Pakistani origin has come on nicely on his international debut with seven wickets in two games including four against the West Indies.
Skipper Graeme Smith also has other options in terms of spin and pace that lend enviable variety and incisiveness that were quite apparent against the West Indies.
On the other hand, England have dawdled along, with several players carrying niggles even as their bowling and fielding touched new lows.
In Bangalore, they dropped catches and bowled poorly, especially in the latter stages as Ireland recovered from 111 for five to successfully chase a target of 327, riding on Kevin O’Brien’s fastest-ever World Cup ton.
England have cited the flat sub-continental tracks as a reason for their bowling failure. The statistics perhaps lend credence to view as there have been 10 centuries and 36 half-centuries besides nine 300-plus totals in the 19 completed matches played so far.
For all that, the pressure would still be on England Sunday. They can ill-afford to drop any more points while South Africa would be hoping to ride on their early momentum.