Amla memories make Cook sweat
Wednesday, June 19
Start time 1030 (0930 GMT)
The Big Picture
South Africa at The Oval, with Hashim Amla in the line up: it's a thought to make even Alastair Cook sweat. Go back further and the ground played host to a one-sided thrashing during the 1999 World Cup, the defeat so damaging in terms of net run rate that it went a long way to seeing England knocked out of the competition they were hosting.
But England have won their last two encounters in global 50-over tournaments - in Centurion and Chennai - and will take comfort from South Africa's return to The Oval for an ODI last summer. Amla made 268 runs fewer than the 311 he amassed in the first Test, and was removed by no less a bowler than Jade Dernbach, before Jonathan Trott's patient half-century was followed a brisker one from Eoin Morgan in a four-wicket win. Sounds like a good formula, doesn't it? That the series finished 2-2 suggests these teams are reasonably well matched.
Both have experienced a few malfunctions in progressing to the knockout stage. England, one-time hot favourites, have cooled like a custard left in the kitchen, their much-documented penchant for platform-building lampooned in various quarters. Wear and tear to Graeme Swann - though James Tredwell has proven an able deputy - and the bowlers' inability to defend 293 against Sri Lanka mean they have long been usurped by India as frontrunners.
AB de Villiers, meanwhile, has had to contend with injuries to his two strike bowlers, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel - the latter tournament-ending - plus familiar jiggery pokery with Duckworth-Lewis (though this time it came to South Africa's aid). A sole group win over a hapless Pakistan is not the sort of form to fill opponents with dread, nor is a record in 50-over knockout competition that boasts just one appearance in a final, 15 years ago. At least they can take comfort in the knowledge that this match is unlikely to go the way of their 1992 World Cup semi-final against England.
At last year's World Twenty20, de Villiers was able to utter the word "choke" and not be immediately carted off. On this occasion, however, it is perhaps England who are more likely to be dragged down by an albatross around their necks. They have never won an ICC 50-over event and this may still be their best chance. Cook's men can't afford any more mistakes.
Form guide(Most recent first, last five completed matches)
South Africa TWLWW
Watch out for...
England's lower middle-order has generally failed to live up to its billing in this tournament, a couple of Ravi Bopara cameos aside. While Cook, Ian Bell and Trott have been assiduously accumulating - and are accordingly England's three leading scorers - Morgan and Jos Buttler have 51 runs, from 50 balls, between them. Cook has hit twice as many sixes (2) as both put together. The bang-to-buck ratio has been kept respectable by Bopara's death hitting but another failure to launch could be costly.
Much may rest on Steyn individually but it is South Africa's bowlers as a group that will be under the microscope. The injured Morkel aside, they went missing against India, before a much-improved display gave them an all-important win over Pakistan. Steyn was the difference against West Indies but, on another night, Ryan McLaren's three overs for 34 might have sent South Africa out of the competition. Bowling to England's more orthodox batsmen could mitigate against similar trauma.
Cook said that Swann's calf problem means he won't be risked unless 100%, as England keep an eye on challenges ahead. Tim Bresnan didn't train at The Oval on Tuesday, having left to visit his pregnant wife, now a couple of weeks overdue. He is likely to be replaced in the XI by Steven Finn, who has risen to No. 2 in the ODI bowler rankings despite having yet to feature in the tournament.
England (probable) 1 Alastair Cook (capt), 2 Ian Bell, 3 Jonathan Trott, 4 Joe Root, 5 Eoin Morgan, 6 Jos Buttler (wk), 7 Ravi Bopara, 8 Stuart Broad, 9 James Tredwell, 10 James Anderson, 11 Steven Finn
Steyn has a "good chance" of being fit, according to de Villiers, despite a groin problem that has superseded his previous side strain. Rory Kleinveldt or Aaron Phangiso are the likely back-up options, depending on the pitch, while Farhaan Behardien could be brought in to strengthen the batting, giving JP Duminy's offspin more of a role. South Africa have used three different No. 3s in the tournament so far and further experimentation can't be ruled out.
South Africa (probable) 1 Colin Ingram, 2 Hashim Amla, 3 AB de Villiers (capt, wk), 4 JP Duminy, 5 Faf du Plessis, 6 David Miller, 7 Ryan McLaren 8 Robin Peterson 9 Chris Morris, 10 Dale Steyn, 11 Lonwabo Tsotsobe
Pitch and conditions
The Oval has tended to be a touch quicker than the other two venues, though after ten days of cricket a wearing pitch should encourage spin. Some overnight rain is expected to clear in time for the start and there might even be a few rays of sunshine over Kennington during the afternoon.
Stats and trivia
- This will be South Africa's first trip to London in this tournament. They have lost their last four ODIs at The Oval, including against West Indies during the 2004 Champions Trophy.
- AB de Villiers needs 36 runs to overtake Hansie Cronje as South Africa's sixth-most prolific ODI batsman.
- Stuart Broad has taken 21 wickets at 15.61 against South Africa, his best average against any side in one-dayers.
"He's a fantastic player but all players are vulnerable early. If he gets in it's a danger for us."
Alastair Cook wants his bowlers to get rid of Hashim Amla pronto
"Unless we win this tournament, people will stay say you're chokers, so no matter what happens it's something we've dealt with."
AB de Villiers is so comfortable with the word he's now throwing it around
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here