Victims of upsets in their previous encounters in the ICC Men's ODI World Cup 2023, defending champions England and South Africa meet in a crucial match at the Wankhede Stadium here on Saturday with their title hopes on the line.
Though it may sound a tad early to their fans, England are in trouble in the World Cup, having lost two of the three matches they have played so far. Their stunning 69-run defeat against minnows Afghanistan shook the tournament to the core. They had started the defence of their title with a 9-wicket defeat against New Zealand in a rematch of the 2019 final. Jos Buttler's team won their lone match so far against Bangladesh.
South Africa is in a slightly better position, having won two of their three matches. Their 38-run loss to the Netherlands was equally, if not a bigger, upset of the tournament. But before that, the Proteas defeated Sri Lanka by 102 runs and then got the better of Australia by 134 runs. But the defeat to the Netherlands pulled them down, though South Africa are still in the race for the top four, placed third with four points behind New Zealand and India, who have eight points from four matches.
England are in fifth position in the standings with two points from three matches. They have not been able to put up a complete performance. David Malan and Joe Root are in good form with the bat -- Malan struck a 107-ball 140 against Bangladesh while Root has scored two half-centuries so far. However, their batting did not work in the matches against New Zealand and Afghanistan.
Test captain Ben Stokes missed the match against Afghanistan is expected to be back in Saturday's clash with South Africa. His presence is expected to revitalise the middle order that has struggled to hold its own so far in the World Cup.
His return gives skipper Jos Buttler a few options in the lineup and he will have to make the correct call on Saturday because another defeat will push England into a cesspool from which extricating themselves will be very difficult.
"Yeah, I think I've got so many options within the squad selection it is always tough and you're working out the right balance, always venue-dependent as well so been a good chance to see the wicket here today and gather a bit more information as well. But obviously, Ben (Stokes) trained really well last night. It's great to see him back. He obviously brings a lot on the field and with his presence and leadership skills as well as someone who is always good to turn to," Buttler said in the pre-match press conference at the Wankhede Stadium on Friday.
Stokes brings a lot of value to the England team and Buttler hoped he would do that on Saturday too.
But South Africa is a different kettle of fish and Buttler said they are playing well despite the setback against the Netherlands.
"I think they've been playing some really good cricket I think obviously the top six is a very strong top six and I think pace with the ball is one of their strengths. It's something I think both teams like as well. We have pace in both attacks and both teams like pace on the ball so as well it should be a really fascinating contest. They're a really good team. You always expect a tough challenge when you play against South Africa and it's going to be a brilliant game," said Buttler.
South Africa skipper Temba Bavuma is hoping that the hurt caused by their stunning defeat against the Netherlands will seep into his team and they will come back strongly against England.
On Friday, Bavuma said they have had a hard conversation between themselves on where things went bad against the Dutch.
"We've had hard conversations as a team, obviously looking at our performances and where things went bad for us from batting, bowling, even from a fielding point of view. We've put that behind us. We’ve obviously got the challenge of England starting and we are, I guess preparing to get ourselves in the right mental state, physically as well, to play our best cricket there," he said.
Bavuma said considering the result of their previous match, both the teams are starting at the same point and therefore the clash with be well fought.
"You could probably say so. I think both teams will obviously be looking to eradicate that, to deal with whatever issues they had. I think both teams will be looking to play their best cricket and I think it could be one hell of a game if you've got two teams of this calibre who play close to their best. Obviously, our aim is to stop England from playing close to their best and hopefully, the result is in our favour this game,"
Though South Africa have a strong batting lineup, the match against the Netherlands proved that they are susceptible to pressure. England too are in the same boat so Saturday's match will be decided by whichever team manages to soak up the pressure and will emerge the winner.
They have a better bowling attack compared to England, which showed its might by dismissing Australia for 177. England thus has their task cut out on Saturday.
Historically too, the two teams are closely matched. In 69 ODIs played between them, England have won 30 while South Africa have won 33 -- five no results.
In World Cups, the two teams have played seven times with England winning on four occasions and South Africa on three.
It is expected to be a typical Wankhede pitch that will be good for batting and the dew could play a key role. Most players on both sides have played at the Wankhede on multiple occasions during their stints with the various Indian Premier League (IPL) franchises and therefore will be familiar with the conditions. So, it all will boil down to which team manages to implement their game plan better on the day.