Old foes set to renew rivalry

England take on South Africa in the first semifinals; fitness worries for Steyn, Swann

Old foes set to renew rivalry

England and South Africa face-off in the semifinal of an ICC event after their 1992 World Cup last-four match in Sydney.

Just when South Africa appeared to be earning a final berth in their maiden appearance in the quadrennial event since their return to international cricket following the end of Apartheid, the sharp spell of shower ruined their party. After a 10-minute rain delay, their target had become 22 off 1 ball from the 22 off 13 before the interruption. Ian Botham consoling a distraught Brian McMillan is still vivid in memory.

It’s been 21 years since that farce was enacted Down Under and their present captain AB de Villiers was barely eight-year-old then. By his own admission de Villiers cried on that day as he did after the 1999 semifinal against Australia at Edgbaston where they contrived to pull off a tie with only one required off the final four balls. Champions Trophy isn’t quite the World Cup but the first semifinal of the eight-nation tournament here at The Oval provides South Africa a chance at redemption.

Having been at the receiving end of weather and miscalculation at various times, it must have come as a great relief for the Proteas when a rain stoppage helped them escape with a tie against the West Indies in their final Group B match. Having made the grades, South Africa are now two steps away from shedding their chokers’ tag. Incidentally, this is the only ICC tournament that South Africa have won when they clinched the inaugural edition in Bangladesh in 1998.

England skipper Alastair Cook didn’t read too much into South Africa’s reputation. “I think they've done all right to be honest with you,” he noted. “It's a massive game for both sides. We've got the opportunity to go into the final of an ICC competition, and it's such an exciting place for a player to be. It's another day tomorrow, it's another game, and what's gone on in the past has no relevance to tomorrow.  It's whichever side handles the pressure well tomorrow and people in that side ‑‑ in your own side, put your hand up and deliver. And that's what you have to do in these big games.”

England themselves will be keen erase the impression of underachievers. Barring the 2010 World Twenty20 title, which they clinched beating arch-rivals Australia in the Caribbean, England haven’t won any other major ICC tournament. They have entered three World Cup finals (1979, 1987, 1992) and have finished second best on all these occasions. In the Champions Trophy alone, they watched helplessly as West Indies pulled off a coup by forging a ninth-wicket partnership in a dramatic chase.

Just like South Africa’s performance, England’s progress to the semifinals too has been unconvincing. They comprehensively beat an out-of-sorts Australia but couldn’t defend a big total against Sri Lanka. In a do-or-die match against New Zealand, they scraped home in a rain-curtailed affair. The allegations of ball-tampering against their bowlers have put the spotlight on them but in conditions that suit their strengths, English pacemen, especially James Anderson and Stuart Broad, can prove dangerous customers.

Ravi Bopara, who is in the eye of storm as the man entrusted with working on the ball, has had an excellent campaign both with the ball and the bat. The all-rounder has provided a fine balance to the side. Against an attack that is weakened by the pull out of an injured Morne Morkel and a potential absence of Dale Steyn, England batsmen will fancy their chances after struggling against Kiwi bowlers in Cardiff.

TEAMS (from): ENGLAND: Alastair Cook (capt), Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan, Jos Buttler (wk), Ravi Bopara, Steven Finn, Stuart Broad, James Tredwell, James Anderson, Graeme Swann, Chris Woakes, Johny Bairstow.
SOUTH AFRICA: Colin Ingram, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers (capt, wk), JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, David Miller, Ryan McLaren, Robin Peterson, Chris Morris, Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Rory Klienveldt, Alviro Petersen, Aaron Phangiso, Farhaan Behardien.

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