TELFORD VICE in London
THE Champions Trophy match between South Africa and India at The Oval in London on Sunday is a double-edged sword.
One edge will cut a path to the semi-finals, the other to the scrapheap of teams who are no longer in the running for a place in the final four.
The side who win will follow the former and avert being added to the latter.
And that after each have played only two games in the tournament.
Such bracing brevity is to be welcomed in a format that too often expects spectators to put up with bloated playing schedules.
But it is hard on teams who, having not hit the ground running as well as they wanted to, are struggling to put one foot ahead of the other.
South Africa did that well enough in their first match, against Sri Lanka at The Oval last Saturday — when they won by 96 runs.
But AB de Villiers’ team took a step backward against Pakistan at Edgbaston in Birmingham on Wednesday, going down by 19 runs.
The Indians have a similar story to tell.
They hammered Pakistan by 124 runs at Edgbaston on Sunday, but were upset by Sri Lanka by seven wickets at The Oval on Thursday.
Sunday’s match, then, is a decider in more ways than that it is a de facto quarter-final.
“It’s really important to stay calm and not get overexcited,” De Villiers said on Saturday.
“The tendency will be there, because we all live for these kinds of moments.
“That’s why we play cricket – we want to play on the big stage against the big teams and tomorrow is one of those games.
“It’s important for us to make sure we focus on why we’ve been successful over the last while — we’ve played with really good energy in both the games.
“I felt the guys were really hungry to succeed and unfortunately came unstuck [against Pakistan].”
De Villiers and his India counterpart, Virat Kohli, are teammates at Royal Challengers Bangalore of the Indian Premier League.
They would also seem to be of like mind regarding Sunday’s game.
“I crave games like these,” Kohli said. “You want to be part of matches that are as important as this one.
“Then, if you perform and your team gets across the line, it’s a different feeling.
“It improves you as a cricketer.”
Neither De Villiers nor Kohli would reveal the make up of their teams, but De Villiers confirmed he had been passed fit after a hamstring scare.
The pitch prepared for the match is the same strip that was used in India’s clash with Sri Lanka, when 643 runs were scored — more than half of them in boundaries — and only nine wickets fell.
History says India have the edge in Sunday’s scenario.
They have played South Africa seven times in one-day international tournaments, and won four of those games.
That suggests a close contest, but none of South Africa’s three wins were vital to them reaching the knockout stages.
Of India’s four victories, two have been achieved in semi-finals.
South Africa, then, have never beaten India when the threat of elimination has hung over their heads.
That should be more than motivation to do so on Sunday.