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Kohli content to start late against struggling South Africa

By JOHN PYEJune 4, 2019
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South Africa's Andile Phehlukwayo, right, watches teammate Kagiso Rabada bowl during a training session ahead of their Cricket World Cup match against India at Ageas Bowl in Southampton, England, Tuesday, June 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)
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South Africa's Andile Phehlukwayo, right, watches teammate Kagiso Rabada bowl during a training session ahead of their Cricket World Cup match against India at Ageas Bowl in Southampton, England, Tuesday, June 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)

SOUTHAMPTON, England (AP) — Virat Kohli is in no doubt about the impact a belated start to the Cricket World Cup has had on his team: Advantage India.

India’s court-mandated break between series means Kohli and Co. go into their opening match on Wednesday fully refreshed and facing an injury-depleted South Africa already reeling from two defeats.

“It is an advantage, I have to say, in terms of understanding how the games have gone, what the conditions have to offer,” Kohli said on Tuesday. “We have a lot of positives that we can take out of starting after everyone else.”

One major positive is a lack of scarring.

Kohli held his first official news conference of the World Cup shortly after hearing veteran South Africa paceman Dale Steyn was ruled out of the tournament. Steyn arrived in England knowing he’d miss a couple of games but confident he’d be fit enough to take on India.

So that’s two defeats, and yet another big loss to South Africa’s pace attack.

“Still, South Africa is a very talented, a very dangerous side on their day and even with the replacements, they will be a very strong side,” Kohli said. “We never take anyone lightly whether a few key players get injured or not.”

South Africa’s losses to England and Bangladesh in London were compounded by injuries to opening batsman Hashim Amla, who was hit on the helmet in the tournament opener and missed the second game, and paceman Lungi Ngidi, who strained a hamstring against Bangladesh and will need at least one more game off to recover.

Ngidi’s injury brought forward a decision on the fitness of Steyn, who sustained a second injury to the problematic shoulder after arriving in England. Team management decided the call for reinforcements could no longer be delayed.

Left-armer Beuran Hendricks, who made his ODI debut in January, has been drafted in as cover but won’t arrive until Wednesday, leaving South Africa with 13 fit players available for selection. And that will mean a major overhaul of South Africa’s strategy, which was initially designed around the pace bowlers. Chris Morris, himself a late addition to the squad when Anrich Nortje was ruled out pre-tournament, could get a start.

“There’s not a lot of options in terms of the bowling attack,” South Africa skipper Faf du Plessis said. “Either you decide if you want to go with all your allrounders in one team, and have a long batting lineup and hopefully you can get a big score, chase anything because you have a lot of batting, or the two spinners.”

South Africa has left-arm wrist spinner Tabraiz Shamsi available to support legspinner Imran Tahir, but du Plessis seemed to tilt toward the allrounders option, saying the Rose Bowl didn’t appear to favor spin.

Kohli didn’t announce a starting XI, saying the batting lineup was settled but there could be some flexibility in the bowling department.

South Africa’s pace attack may lack depth, but it won’t lack a little bit of firepower with Kagiso Rabada leading the way.

And that sets up an enticing duel.

Kohli, who has opened the last two World Cups with centuries, was surprised to hear Rabada described him as immature in comments printed following their last meeting in the Indian Premier League.

“What did he say?” Kohli asked, before being given the general sentiment. “Well, I played against him many times and if anything needs to be discussed, we can discuss it man to man.”

So with Kohli determined to score big runs, and Rabada needing wickets to inspire his understrength team, it sets up a spicy showdown.

“Rabada is always going to be a world-class bowler and a threat to any side he plays,” Kohli said. “He has the kind of passion and he has a kind of skillset that he can, on his day, go through any batting order.

“Against guys like Rabada, who can turn up on their day and bowl outstandingly well, you have to be respectful but have that self-belief as well. That balance will be crucial. We always need to respect that and find ways of scoring against him.”

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