The timing can't be any worse for England. Ambushed by a fearless Ireland led by Kevin O'Brien's blinder, they run into a well-oiled and ambitious South African machine that is impatiently waiting to test itself against stronger opposition.
A defeat to the Proteas in the Group B World Cup tie at the MA Chidambaram stadium on Sunday can push England towards an early exit.
Life has been tough for England skipper Andrew Strauss at this World Cup despite his own heartening form with the bat. Since their 1-6 series drubbing in Australia, the team, particularly their pace bowlers returning from injuries, have struggled to get their act together in the sub-continent.
England's pace pack has looked bereft of ideas in this World Cup. And unless they find fresh vigour, South Africa's top-order batsmen will take a heavy toll of them. The bowlers came worse off in the narrow win against the Dutch and in the tie against India.
South Africa, on the other hand, were impressive against both West Indies and the Netherlands, using the opportunities to display their new-found faith in spin bowlers. England's top-order batsmen are unlikely to relish a spin attack, that is, if they survive Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, especially if the duo bowls first in the day game.Strauss, however, put on a brave face on Saturday.
“The format of this World Cup is such that you have to put your defeats down very quickly and move on and look
forward to the next game,” Strauss said on Saturday. “Clearly, those are the lessons that we learnt from the Ireland game. The focus after that is now on South Africa and how we are going to win this game.”
He betrayed that fact he was clinging to hope. “Hopefully, South Africa will take us lightly after our Ireland match. If they do that, I can look forward to a chance to win.”
England defeated South Africa in past two bilateral series. But it won't take much for Smith to remind his opposite number about South Africa's World Cup record. Since they suffered two defeats on their Cup debut in 1992, the Proteas have won the next three clashes.
“The Ireland game would have hurt them a lot,” Smith said, looking forward to facing the England pace bowlers on Sunday. “Maybe we can take advantage of that lack of confidence.”