England play South Africa in crucial match

Chennai: Smarting under the shock defeat at the hands of Ireland, England take on traditional foes South Africa in a must-win group league game here tomorrow to keep their quarterfinal hopes alive in the World Cup.

Andrew Strauss-led England, who have just three points from as many matches, having tied their encounter against India after the hard-fought win over the Netherlands, need an outright win in tomorrow`s battle to seal the issue as otherwise their qualification for the knockout stage will depend on the outcome of other remaining two matches and other group matches.

Ireland, in particular have three more matches and possess capabilities to surprise the well known teams, which could cost England dearly at the end of the league stage.

England campaign has moved from disappointment to regaining confidence to now in a crisis.

If they stutter, they may well have to pack their bags.

England play Bangladesh next on March 11 at Chittagong and West Indies here on March 17.

However, the South Africans have displayed their wares to good effect and are keen to grab the opportunity to avenge their 3-1 series loss at home in 2009.

Going by the current form, Proteas batsmen and bowlers are much better placed than the English, whose bowling and fielding are below par.

Moreover Graeme Smith`s side is placed at the top of the group table at the moment with two confident wins over the West Indies and the Netherlands.

Backed by solid all-round strength, especially the varied bowling attack, which has been sharpened with the addition of Pakistan-born leg spinner Imran Tahir.

Their batting has also come good with A B de Villers among the leading run scorers and JP Duminy in form, besides Smith and Hashim Amla being there at the top to provide a solid platform.

On present form and performance, South Africa also have more options in bowling attack than the English, a fact stressed by captain Graeme Smith today at the pre-match conference.

"I think England-South Africa is always a big game, always been really competitive. We are looking forward to this game.

All our series and games have been exciting to watch. I guess tomorrow will be no different. We obviously expect England to perform really well. We are set up for a really exciting game," he said.

Strauss` men have had good break of two days to get over the humiliating loss against the Irish, who scored a remarkable three-wicket upset chasing a massive 328, thanks to the 63-ball 113 blitzkrieg by Kevin O`Brien, who tore into the English attack on his way to fastest World Cup century off 50 balls.

England can draw some comfort from the form of their batsmen with Strauss himself amongst the top run getters in this tournaments with an aggregate of 280 from three matches, including a stupendous 158 against India that helped the team tie their match in Bangalore.

Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell have also performed well so far.

But it is their bowling that has been a cause of worry right from the start of the competition as the side has so far conceded 956 runs — 292 against Netherlands and 338 against India, besides 329 against Ireland.

England were given a scare by minnows Netherlands in their opening game as the bowlers allowed the Dutch to score 292 in 50 overs before the batsmen led by Strauss (88) came to the side`s rescue.

Though Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann, the most economical of the English bowlers so far, have done well on pitches that did not offer much assistance, the main worry is pace bowler Jimmy Anderson, who has conceded 212 runs of his 28 overs in three matches for a poor economy rate of 7.54 and two wickets.

His new ball partner Stuart Broad has also been found wanting, giving away easy runs.

Bresnan, despite claiming five wickets against India was found wanting against the Irish and in all has also yielded 161 runs of 30 overs.

Swann, perhaps having bowled on flat wickets, lacks the abilities to bowl as a spinner on all conditions, though he is being the most economical so far.

However, all-rounder Paul Collingwood and Jonathan Trott have maintained that the loss against Ireland was a one-off affair and had not dented the confidence of the side, which is now focused on tomorrow`s game.

Collingwood, in fact virtually laid the blame for the inept English bowling on the wickets in sub-continent saying they were flat and batsmen friendly wickets.

"I think it is probably got more to do with the wickets.

The wickets tend to be very much like the road you have outside this hotel. Flat not much grass on them and batsmen-friendly," he said.

The England team has had two days of intense training session with the thrust on fielding, perhaps aware of the costly lapses in catching during the previous matches.

On the other hand, spinner Imran Tahir and quickie Dale Steyn have been the pick of South African bowlers besides Morne Morkel, who has supported them well in the previous two matches.

Tahir, considered the trump card for South Africa has so far acquitted himself well being the chief wicket taker with 7 for 6 from 16.5 overs, while Steyn took four for 50 so far from 13.3 overs.

Hence, South Africa have the required wear withal to get the better of England, if they execute their plans well.

Teams:

England (From): Andrew Strauss (capt), James Anderson, Ian Bell, Ravi Bopara, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Paul Collingwood, Kevin Pietersen, Matt Prior (wicketkeeper), Ajmal Shahzad, Graeme Swann, James Tredwell, Jonathan Trott, Luke Wright, Michael Yardy.

South Africa (From) Graeme Smith (captain), Hashim Amla, Johan Botha, AB de Villiers (wicketkeeper), Jean-Paul Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Imran Tahir, Colin Ingram, Jacques Kallis, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Robin Peterson, Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Morne van Wyk (wicketkeeper).