Sri Lanka v South Africa, The Oval; India v Pakistan, Birmingham
– Proteas the tournament favourites
– In-fighting in Indian camp
– Underdogs shouldn’t be written off
Two of the tournament favourites take on two of the underdogs in ICC Champions Trophy action this weekend, as South Africa open their campaign against Sri Lanka while India face old rivals Pakistan.
The 2-1 loss in the just-completed series against England aside, the Proteas have dominated the 50-over game in the last year and enter the tournament as the top-ranked side in the world.
With the world’s best limited overs batsman AB de Villiers in the side, as well as the new world number one ODI bowler Kagiso Rabada in their ranks, one would be foolish to bet against the Proteas walking away with the trophy.
Although, considering their relatively poor record in ICC events, the opposite may also be true.
The 1996 World Cup winners Sri Lanka can never be written off, but with inspirational captain Angelo Mathews an injury doubt, the islanders may well be up against it in this one.
Meanwhile, world number three India go into the tournament hoping the reported spat between captain Virat Kohli and coach Anil Kumble doesn’t affect their performance too much.
Change room politics aside, India have traditionally struggled to play their best cricket in England, with their batsmen often struggling to impress in the cloudy conditions. That said, the majority of the wickets seen in the country in recent weeks have been flat, so if the overhead conditions are clear, Pakistan may be in for a long day in the field.
The lowest ranked team in the competition, Pakistan are always a dangerous team in global competitions, irrespective of their form going into the event, as their previous successes at the World Cup and World T20 attest to.
On paper, India are the stronger team, but as the saying goes, sport isn’t played on paper.