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MATT YOUNG: What you need to know before watching England versus South Africa

OPINION

England are the favourites not just for this game, but for the whole tournament. Yup - while we’ve been wondering whether Proteas opening batsman Hashim Amla deserves selection or not, the English have been quietly going about the business of building a side with the perfect mix of talent, experience, and youthful exuberance. They’ve won 17 of the last 22 series they’ve played, which is, in cricketing terms, brilliant.

Amla will probably be play against England. There have been many discussions and arguments about the Mighty Hash and whether his huge drop in form merits him being dropped from the side. He seems to have put the debate to bed though, when he slashed a couple of 50s in the two warm-up matches against Sri Lanka and the West Indies. In fact, he averages 116* in the last couple of matches. With that ridiculous statistic! He’s certainly one to watch today.

The Proteas are playing this tournament under a lot less pressure than the last couple of World Cups. We all remember THAT Klusener/Donald horror show back in 1999 (and if you’re not old enough to remember it, I recommend only watching it with the lights on). This time round though, the Proteas aren’t expected to do very well. Maybe it’s the fact that AB de Villiers has retired from his hobby of ruining bowlers’ averages with his powerful batting. Maybe it’s the fact that names such as Dale Steyn no longer stir the kind of fear in their opponents that they used to (since his shoulder appears to be made of china). Irrespective our underdog status, the point is that without pressure, we might go a bit further than the odds suggest…

Lastly, and I’m putting my neck on the line here, I don’t think we can read too much into the Proteas chances if we lose. Sure, it means we need to play better next time if we want to progress in the tournament, but with all the hype, the mental British media, and hostile fans at The Oval, we’re expected to lose this one. If we do lose, and if there’s someone in the office on Friday grumbling about this batsman or that bowler, tell them to relax. It isn’t over until it’s, well, really over.

And anyway, if it does go south, you can always say that you never liked cricket anyway. It’s what the rest of us will be doing.

The first ball is expected at 11:30 on Thursday morning. You can follow the live updates of the match at @EWNSport on Twitter.

Matt Young is a freelance sport reporter at EWN. Follow him on Twitter on @MattYoungZa

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