India enter the Champions Trophy as the reigning World Cup winners in the 50-over format, and will be expected to feature strongly again when they take on South Africa in the opener here today.
Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni has no doubt his side can cope with the pressure and their status as the best-supported team outside of the host nation.
“When you have fans, people talk about the burden of expectation and in the Indian cricket team, there are no situations where there is no pressure or expectation from the fans following us.
“When we play warm-up games we are expected to win, even thought it is about getting the most out of them. “If we don’t win warm-up games people say ‘they only win the big games’, and when you do win it they say ‘it’s only a warm-up game so it doesn’t matter’.
“We always welcome this double-edged sword. We just have to balance it in the right way,” Dhoni said on match eve. Dhoni looked in fine fettle when making a typically aggressive 91 in the massive 243-run win over the Australians, while Dinesh Karthik enters the contest with the Proteas on the back of consecutive centuries.
Steyn blow for SA
Meanwhile, South Africa look unlikely to risk Dale Steyn in today’s tie. With stalwarts Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis absent from the Proteas’ squad, the experience of fast bowler Steyn is set to be key to South Africa’s hopes of winning the competition’s final edition.
But the 29-year-old suffered a side strain in the warm-up defeat against Pakistan and, while he has not been completely ruled out of the Group B meeting in south Wales, captain AB de Villiers admits it would be foolish to potentially risk further damage.
He said: “It’s obviously not looking good, but we will re-assess him tonight and tomorrow morning and make a final call on that. “It is sort of touch-and-go and it is obviously an issue and it is something we will have to look at.
“There are a few more games coming up, this is not our one and only game, so we wouldn’t like him to be ruled out of the rest of the tournament.”
De Villiers is not concerned the absence of Smith and Kallis will leave his middle-order exposed if early wickets tumble today. “We’ve got a very experienced middle order and in any way our numbers four, five, six and seven are very dangerous and in form.
“We have experienced players like myself, Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy, and then we’ll have a youngster probably at seven, depending on what team we are looking to pick
“There is enough experience, it is a set team and we are very happy with the combination there,” he said before concluding, “We don’t have the likes of Kallis or Smith here but I feel there is a very good energy in the side.
We will be using the experience and energy we have to go out there and win one game at a time and hopefully take the trophy back home.”