Big names missing in big game
Match factsThursday, June 6, Cardiff
Start time 9.30am GMT
The last time India played South Africa in an ODI was in the 2011 World Cup, when India's top five were Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, Yusuf Pathan and Yuvraj Singh. The bowling line-up consisted of Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel and Harbhajan Singh. None of those players, most of whom are vastly experienced, are in the squad for this tournament.
South Africa are also missing some of their legendary names, with Graeme Smith injured and Jacques Kallis skipping the tournament for personal reasons. Their fans might have felt reassured looking at the familiar bowling line-up, but Dale Steyn's side strain means he could miss the first game.
At least they can still rely on the calm guidance of Gary Kirsten, who has had a golden run in his two years as coach. He has already firmly established South Africa as the best Test side in the world, a position they flirted with for a couple of decades without really nailing it down. The next challenge for Kirsten, who will step down as South Africa coach later this month, is to end his country's painfully long hunt for an ICC trophy to go along with their triumph in the inaugural version of this tournament way back in 1998.
While South Africa have at least been able to focus entirely on the cricket, India haven't. For the past few weeks in India, cricket has dominated newspaper front pages and has been breathlessly reported on round-the-clock by television channels, but almost all of it has been about the corruption in the IPL, and the ensuing turmoil in the BCCI. Even as MS Dhoni was addressing the press in Cardiff ahead of the opening match of the Champions Trophy, the cricket news back in India was about the Delhi Police questioning the owners of Rajasthan Royals in connection with the spot-fixing controversy.
Dhoni's already has a stellar CV as captain, but marshalling this new-look team under these distractions, especially in a short tournament like the Champions Trophy where even one defeat could mean elimination, will be among the biggest challenges of his career.
Form Guide(most recent first)
South Africa WWLWL
Watch out for...Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Irfan Pathan and Vinay Kumar are all military medium and liable to be slapped around the park towards the end of the innings while Ishant Sharma's performances are yet to justify the enormous patience shown by the selectors. Which means India's quickest bowler Umesh Yadav has plenty to do. As if being the spearhead, despite having played only 17 ODIs, wasn't enough, Yadav will have it even harder as he hasn't bowled more than five overs in a match since last November when he suffered a serious back injury.
Just a week before Yadav picked up his injury, JP Duminy received news that he would be out of cricket for six months due to a ruptured tendon in his left heel. Duminy's first competitive match since then came last week against Netherlands, where he laid to rest any fitness concerns by pummelling an unbeaten 150. In the absence of Kallis and Smith, Duminy's experience will be useful in a batting line-up filled with relative newcomers.
Dinesh Karthik seems to have forced his way into the XI after a couple of sparkling centuries in the warm-up matches, which leaves India with two places to decide. One of the openers' slots is likely to be a toss-up between Rohit Sharma, who had mixed success at the top of the order in the series against England earlier this year, and M Vijay, who has had a poor IPL and is yet to convince in ODIs. The allrounders' spot is a contest between Ravindra Jadeja and Irfan Pathan, and who gets the nod could depend on whether India are adventurous enough to opt for a four-man pace attack.
India: (probable) 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 Rohit Sharma, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Dinesh Karthik, 5 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 6 Suresh Raina, 7 Ravindra Jadeja/ Irfan Pathan, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Umesh Yadav
"Steyn does not look good at all. It's touch and go," AB de Villiers said the day before the opening game. In case Steyn is deemed unfit, it is likely that Rory Kleniveldt will take his place. The rest of the line-up looks fairly settled, with David Miller likely to miss out in the middle order.
South Africa: (probable) 1 Hashim Amla, 2 Alviro Petersen, 3 Colin Ingram, 4 AB de Villiers (capt & wk), 5 Faf du Plessis, 6 JP Duminy, 7 Ryan McLaren, 8 Robin Peterson, 9 Rory Kleinveldt, 10 Morne Morkel, 11 Lonwabo Tsotsobe
Pitch and conditions
Both top orders struggled in the India-Australia warm-up match on Tuesday in Cardiff, but Karthik and Dhoni showed there weren't too many devils in the track. Dhoni's verdict on the pitch was: "There was not much swing for them but there was variable pace on offer." Though Australia were rolled over for 65 by India, they had comfortably chased down 257 against West Indies on a similar surface on Saturday.
- South Africa have the worst ODI record in England over the past six years, having won only two matches in 10
- Of the players in the squads of the two teams, only AB de Villiers has aggregated 100 or more runs in the Champions Trophy
- India have won both their encounters against South Africa in the Champions Trophy, the last of which was in 2002. Of those who played that 2002 fixture, only Robin Peterson is in the current tournament's squads.
Quotes"A fresh venue a new start, we have to do all the right things again. Just because the stats are in our favour doesn't mean we will win the game."
MS Dhoni isn't getting too carried away by the fact that South Africa haven't beaten India in the Champions Trophy
"We'll put a bit of emphasis on the first 15 overs of the game. With the bat in hand, and try and fit the foundation and with the ball be very attacking."
AB de Villiers
Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo