The upcoming South Africa match becomes a must-win game really for England in this World Cup. There is no better time for Ben Stokes to make a comeback into the XI. The irony of sorts is that Stokes often balances the side with his all-round abilities but with his injury, he may not bowl at all in this World cup and play purely as a batter. And if Stokes plays, England may have to rejig their combinations to get him in.
I can foresee a couple of changes in the England XI for the South Africa match, if not many. The balance of the side might change if Stokes is in only as a batter. My gut feeling is that they may still stick with four seamers and two spinners. But if they decide to keep Harry Brook in the side alongside Stokes then either Sam Curran or Chris Woakes will miss out. England will then go with three seamers in Reece Topley, Mark Wood and either Curran or Woakes. I also feel that England may want to include Moeen Ali in place of Liam Livingstone as the second spinbowling option after Adil Rashid. That may well be the way England could be thinking.
In my view, looking at the venue, England should go in with 3 seamers and 3 spinners including Joe Root on the Mumbai surface that is likely to have some bounce on it and a little turn.
The other way to find the right XI for the Mumbai pitch could be to bring in David Willey or Gus Atkinson and leave out Harry Brook. That way England can play 4 seamers and 2 spinners. But that will be a brave call to make. That will be a big conundrum for England ahead of his contest.
Moeen for Livingstone is another possible change but that again is a tough call to make. Moeen is a genuine spinner while Livingstone is a three-dimensional player.
One other challenge that England’s face against South Africa is getting the approach right, which currently is very timid and frail. They have not shown the same kind of authority that you associate with this England side. In the two out of three games, they have been way below par in terms of their approach. I expect England to be more aggressive. I feel the conditions will suit them. The opposition will also suit them. South Africa have been playing good cricket albeit the loss to Netherlands. And the kind of cricket they play can help bring the best out of England. I also feel that it will be a huge day for England captain Jos Butler to lead with the bat as well as his captaincy.
When you look at South Africa, their strengths are not just their batting but also bowling. They generally go with a combination of four pacers and one spinner with the backup of Aiden Markram. Keshav Maharaj is often the spinner. They could also play Tabraiz Shamsi in Mumbai. It could possibly be a scenario where England face the barrage of fast bowling from South Africa on the pitch. South African bowling will demand high-tempo batting which might suit England.
South Africa, I feel, are still in a good place. They obviously will be rocked by the loss to Netherlands. But they are playing some good cricket. Their top order is firing and the bowling, of course, is world class.
I feel that South African side, apart from home side India, have benefitted the most by the Indian Premier League (IPL). They are very experienced in both their batting and bowling even on Indian pitches. People like Markram, Heinrich Klaasen, David Miller, Rabada, Ngidi, Jansen play a lot in IPL in the Indian conditions. Their players have learnt a lot about how to perform and win in these conditions. That is serving them well in this tournament.
Markram is one of the most improved players of spin bowling that I have seen in the last couple of years. No surprise that he has already found form in this World Cup with a hundred off just 49 balls.
Yes, SA must be shaken by the loss to Netherlands but that also sets up this contest nicely as England too are coming off a similar defeat.
If England manage to make it to the knockouts from here, this game in Mumbai is going to the moment that are going to look back and talk about as the match where the revamp began. This could be the match where it all gets kicked on. If England sees each of the remaining six games as six different finals, then that mentality is going to help them immensely. That way England are going to place huge importance on their matches.
England need to find a different gear and fix their approach. They are clearly capable of it. They are the defending champions. A good number of the players in the squad lifted the World Cup. This is not a foreign territory for them. Even in 2019, there was a loss here or there, but they found strength and ways to come back strongly.
I am expecting a crackerjack of a cricket match.