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SA, England fight for berth right

Both teams are desperate to win, but Graeme Smith's squad looks better equipped, writes Atreyo Mukhopadhyay.

cricket Updated: Apr 17, 2007 00:39 IST

With Ireland making this World Cup an occasion to remember and an occasion to have a quiet laugh at the plight of their illustrious neighbours England suddenly find themselves with a chance to get even.



Yet, to beat a Test nation save Bangladesh in this competition, the inventors of the game face South Africa and the West Indies in their last two Super Eight matches. Their dismal performance will be forgotten if they win both, as those points will put them in the semifinals.



Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka are already there, leaving England and South Africa to fight for the remaining slot, and that makes Tuesday's match a virtual quarterfinal.



This is South Africa's last outing in this phase and despite defeats to Bangladesh and New Zealand, they are the favourites because of the way they have played and England have played. Both teams are desperate to win, but Graeme Smith's squad looks better equipped.



South Africa’s fast bowlers will like the bounce Kensington Oval is offering and for a side like England, who have hardly got runs from their batsmen other than Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell, that is reason to worry. South Africa will come hard at them and this can be disconcerting for any team, not just for one that has looked vulnerable on many fronts.



England's concerns start at the top of the order, where Michael Vaughan cuts a sorry figure. Bell has partnered him in the last two games, Andrew Strauss coming at No. 3. This decision is hard to understand on two counts Strauss is a specialist opener and Bell was scoring runs at No. 3, until being moved up. Two, displacing him weakens the middle order. Vaughan must pray that Paul Collingwood and Andrew Flintoff get the runs they are due. These two are pillars of his team, but apart from the latter's bowling, the captain has got little from them so far.



Better off in terms of getting contributions from all quarters, South Africa's biggest worry is statistical. Despite batting enviably deep and possessing more than reasonable bite in the attack, they have already lost thrice. It is a disconcerting number for a team that likes to think it can topple Australia.



England beat the world champions in a tri-series final earlier this year and New Zealand humbled just after that, but whenever it has come to challenging the full-strength Aussies in recent times, only South Africa have proved equal to the task. Topping 434 was a remarkable feat last year but before that, the two teams were equally matched, tied at 2-2.



Smith sure believes they stood a chance against their bitter rivals in the group match in St Kitts, where they were chasing 373. They were having a real go at it until the captain limped off after a riveting opening stand with AB de Villiers. Setbacks harden men, and it is time for Smith's men to prove they are worthy challengers and get the immediate obstacle out of the way.