LONDON - The countdown to the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2019 finally comes to an end, as England, the tournament hosts and No.1-ranked ODI side in the world, face off against third-ranked South Africa at the Oval today.

England have won 15 of their last 19 ODI series and are the early favourites on home soil.

England’s batting line-up is laden with superstars, headed by the opening pair of Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow, who boast the highest strike-rates in ODI history, among all openers to have scored more than 1,000 runs. The rest of England’s line-up possesses similar strength, Eoin Morgan and Joe Root’s presence often relatively overshadowed by the magnificent Jos Buttler, who is arguably the most devastating 360° batsman in the world today.

While Morgan is all set to return to lead the side after missing the warm-up matches due to finger injury, newly-qualified fast bowler Jofra Archer will be the man to watch among the bowlers, and could just be what they need to finally lift cricket’s most prestigious trophy. The batting looks suitably reinforced, so it is important that Jofra Archer hits the ground running for England to establish an equally potent bowling unit.

Morgan promised England will not fold under the pressure of being World Cup favourites. Morgan confirmed his squad has a full bill of health, after injury concerns for Mark Wood, Jofra Archer and Liam Dawson, and declared his side ready for action.

Match starts at 2:30 pm

“We have spoken about it as a group, the level of expectation and the favourites tag is there for a reason,” he said. “Over the last two years, particularly at home, we have been outstanding and that is the reason it is there. In past World Cups I have played in and some of the others have played in, we have gone with little expectation and not done that well. I would pick this position instead. There is a lot of belief within the dressing room. We are confident with our own game. The first game of any World Cup or Ashes feels different and that is natural. Dealing with it is a challenge in itself but one we are looking forward to. A win [against South Africa] under any circumstances will do.”

South Africa, like England, do not possess an esteemed record at the tournament, but their side looks balanced and of high quality.

Wicket-keeper Quinton de Kock is as capable as anyone of punishing England’s opening bowlers, and is a proven match-winner, alongside the experienced duo of Hashim Amla and skipper Faf du Plessis. The bowling unit, despite the absence of Dale Steyn, who has been ruled out of the first game as he continues to recover from shoulder injury, seems formidable, boasting the ever-energetic Imran Tahir and 24-year-old pacer Kagiso Rabada, who finished as the top-two wicket-takers in the Indian Premier League.

Quelling runs and taking key wickets in the middle overs will be vital to prevent an astronomical England total, and Tahir will be the man tasked to do it. His guile and experience could prove crucial against the strong England middle-order.

Faf du Plessis ramped up the pressure on hosts England, insisting opener is a free swing for his underdog South Africa side. That is a tag South Africa have been used to at recent World Cups but they are also chasing their first trophy and, despite being ranked third in the world, Du Plessis insists they will play without fear.

“Whether you are favourites or not, you still have to play good cricket,” he said. “They deservedly have the tag because they are the home nation and have consistently played good cricket. But you will face such different opposition through this tournament so it is about making sure you stay focussed for the whole tournament.

England are the favourites so if it means on the day there is less pressure on us then we can play freely. We are going in as underdogs and if that releases some players in the team then that is great.”

For South Africa to stop England in their tracks, taking wickets will be essential. The loss of seamer Dale Steyn is a further boost for England, with the 35-year-old ruled out with a shoulder injury.

However, South Africa still boast a formidable pace attack led by Kagiso Rabada, the fifth-ranked bowler in ODI cricket.

“KG does not need any guidance from me,” Du Plessis added. “I can speak to him from a tactical point of view but I won’t tell him how to bowl, he knows more than I do. It is about setting him free. World Cups are for people to perform and KG will want to make this his stage. Dale is a big loss to our team but we expected it. When we picked the squad he was 60 per cent ready so we anticipated for this to happen. “But a fit Dale Steyn makes our attack a strong one so we need to make a few changes to our team for England. Our bowling is one of our X-factors. We have pace with Steyn, Rabada and [Lungi] Ngidi and that changes now. That is plan A for the World Cup in terms of our balance.”

England 

Eoin Morgan Captain

Moeen Ali, Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler (wk), Tom Curran, Liam Dawson, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, James Vince, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood.

South africa

Faf du Plessis Captain

Aiden Markram, Quinton de Kock (wk), Hashim Amla, Rassie van der Dussen, David Miller, Chris Morris, Andile Phehlukwayo, JP Duminy, Dwaine Pretorius, Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Imran Tahir, Tabraiz Shamsi

ODI RANKING

England   1st       South Africa      3rd

CWC TITLES

0       0

ODIS head to head    

Matches                     59

England Won              26   

South Africa won        29

Tied                           1

No result                    3

World Cup head to head

Matches                       6

England Won                3

South Africa won          3

Tied                             0 

No result                       0