First hurdle: Pouncing Proteas

Tough opener: Dhoni's men face de Villiers' strong South African outfit in a high-voltage Group B clash that kicks off Champions Trophy. Rohit Bhaskar reports.

cricket Updated: Jun 06, 2013 02:27 IST
Champions Trophy,India vs South Africa,MS Dhoni

The top-ranked Test team in the world meets the top-ranked ODI side. The final edition of Champions Trophy couldn't have asked for a better start.

India vs South Africa. What a mouth-watering prospect! The two teams are going to meet later in the year for one of the most anticipated series. But the two square off at the start of a tournament whose format doesn't allow for any bad days.

The first match of any major sporting tournament has one of the two performing — either the hosts or the defending champions. But, such is the power, fan following and interest whenever India play that the organisers had no other option. Indeed in Wales, India are more of a home team than England anyway.

With each team getting just three matches before the semifinal, one loss and you could already be staring at an early exit.

MS Dhoni was tight-lipped over the playing XI, but if there's one man who shouldn't be worrying much over his spot is Dinesh Karthik. With two contrasting tons in the warm-ups, he will be a lock in the team sheet.

The form of newlywed Umesh Yadav has also been a talking point. Against Australia here on Tuesday he was near unplayable. He bowled fast, and straight and he got it to swing. Much of India's success will hinge on him.

Steyn's fitness
If India are banking on their leading new ball bowler, South Africa will be hoping their own speed demon, Dale Steyn, overcomes a niggle and takes the field.

The first question captain AB de Villiers was asked in the pre-match presser was on the fitness of the lynchpin of his attack. His reaction didn't inspire much confidence. "Yeah, obviously it's not looking good, but we'll just reassess it tonight and tomorrow morning and take a final call," he said.

No Kallis
South Africa will also take the field minus two of their stalwarts. Jacques Kallis played a starring role in 1998 when the Proteas won their as yet only ICC event. The veteran all-rounder opted out, joining injured former skipper Graeme Smith in doing so.

Dhoni admitted that South Africa will find life without Kallis. "Kallis is someone who is very difficult to replace, he's one of the greatest all-rounders in history. So it will affect the balance of the side," said Dhoni.

While rehearsing for the opening ceremony, the organisers' playlist seemed slightly out of place. Among the songs that were blaring on the speakers was Shakira's Waka-Waka, the official anthem of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. But, make no mistake, come tomorrow it will be all about the cricket.

First Published: Jun 06, 2013 00:16 IST