The eagerly-awaited ICC Cricket World Cup begins at the Oval on Thursday when hosts and tournament favourites England – 7/4 (from 15/8) with BetVictor to lift the Trophy on July 14th – entertain South Africa – 9/1 at BetVictor – at the Oval in a day game starting at 10.30am.
England’s modus operandi is to bat second and chase whatever score the opposition make and I would be surprised if either England skipper Eoin Morgan or his South African counterpart Faf du Plessis did not bowl first on Thursday.
These are, arguably, the two best cricketing nations never to have won the World Cup and this will be a real test of England’s credentials. Eoin Morgan’s side have been carrying all before them over the last couple of years, but they were brought back down to earth at Southampton on Saturday when they lost to holders – and my antepost selection – Australia.
Yes, they bounced back when thrashing a disappointing Afghanistan on Monday, but the Afghan opening attack – taken apart by England openers Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy – bore no resemblance to the examination the “Bash Brothers” will receive from the Proteas’ quicks Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi on the bouncy Oval wicket.
England are 2/5 to beat South Africa (17/10) at BetVictor and make a winning start to their World Cup challenge. South Africa skipper Faf du Plessis’ will be delighted to see the return to form of opener Hashim Amla who scored a run-a-ball 65 in their first warm up match with Sri Lanka and was 51 not out against the West Indies when the rains arrived in Bristol on Sunday.
Eoin Morgan’s side deserve to be favourites but 4/9 is too short against a side who do not have the weight of expectation on their shoulders as has often been the case in the past when they have either underachieved or choked.
There is no AB de Villiers – arguably the best batsman never to have won a 50-over World Cup although Brian Lara fans might disagree – in 2019, but they have a good quick pace attack, a talented if not quite World Class leg-spinner in Imran Tahir, one of the best fielding sides in the tournament and a long and exciting batting line up.
If du Plessis wins the toss at 10 o’clock on Thursday, and the weather forecast of a grey cloudy morning is correct, South Africa – ranked number 3 in the world – cannot be as big as 17/10. England are worthy market leaders, but I insist they will still be around the 7/4 mark for the tournament if they reach the knock out stages – such is the quality of opposition.
Joe Root and Faf du Plessis are the recommendations to be top runscorer for their respective teams. I hope England play around Root and the England Test skipper does not get carried away by what is happening down the other end. His role is to score as quickly as the state of the game warrants, but he cannot get carried away if one of the Bash Brothers or Jos Butler or Eoin Morgan are teeing off at the other end.
Jofra Archer again hinted against Afghanistan that he might have the X-Factor that could turn this excellent England side into World Champions. Number 1 ranked ODI nation, England have the burden of being hosts, bookies favourites and the best ODI side in the world over the last couple of years.
But can they maintain their form and domination over six weeks when it really matters?
We’ll soon find out – the waiting is almost over.
Joe Root to be top England runscorer at 16/5
Faf du Plessis to be top South African runscorer at 4/1