Hosts and the front runners to win the 2019 ICC World Cup, England will know this is their best chance to lift the crown for the first time. They will start their campaign by taking on take on perennial chokers South Africa in the tournament opener, on Thursday, at The Oval. Interestingly, both the teams have failed so far to place their hands on the trophy and possess the best chance to revive their doomed fate. However, banking on the recent records, England will start the match as the firm favourite to win it.

England led by Eoin Morgan had a forgetful journey in last edition when they were knocked out in the group stage. However, they rose from the ashes of their poor campaign in 2015 to start the 2019 edition as the top ranked ODI team. Rightly so, the ‘Three Lions’ are fancying their chances this time with the most dominant batting line-up in their arsenal and a bowling unit which can overpower any team on their day. England have not lost a single ODI series in last two years for almost two-and-a-half years, such has been their dominance.

However, in the first warm-up match against Australia, they failed to emerge victorious. But the teams would be wary that these games mean little in comparison to the actual World Cup matches. The hosts bat deep down with even their number 11 capable of doing the woodworks, if the need arises. They also have with them the likes of Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy who boast the highest strike-rates of any openers in ODI history to have posted more than 1,000 runs, yet still have the highest average of any pair topping the order in the competition.

In the form of Joe Root, they have one of the finest batsman of current times and he along with captain Eoin Morgan form a formidable middle order for his team. However, it will be Jos Buttler who would be shouldering the middle order duties for his team and with his current form he is probably the most vicious batsman going into this showpiece event. In men’s ODI history, only 20 players have ever averaged over 25 with the bat at a strike-rate over 100. Four of them, Buttler, Roy, Bairstow and Moeen Ali, currently play for England.

On paper England’s bowling might not look as menacing as their batting, but in the form of Jofra Archer, Moeen Ali, leggie Adil Rashid, experienced Chris Woakes, among others, they have a balanced and multi-dimensional attack. The bowling unit is fully capable of dethroning any batting line-up on a given day.

South Africa, on the other hand, received a mighty blow to their preparations of the first game when pace spearhead Dale Steyn was ruled out of the first game owing to a shoulder injury. Always considered a favourite, the Proteas have never quailfied beyond the semi-finals and earned the tag of ‘Chokers’ because of their habit of failing at the important junctures of a ICC tournaments.

In pacer Rabada, South Africa have one of the best in the business and the wily old fox Imran Tahir also adds variety with his deadly leg-spin. There were few concerns with Rabada’s injury but with him bowling in the warm-up match against Srilanka, they have their most potent bowler ready and raring to go.

As far as their batting is concerned, Du Plessis will have to work overtime along with stumper batsman Quinton de Kock. Hashim Amla, who is at the twilight of his career, with his tonne loads of experience will add value and guidance to the batting unit. Youngsters Aiden Markram and newcomer Rassie van der Dussen will also play important role in the tournament. Rassie has had a terrific rookie year so far, with four half-centuries in his first eight ODI innings. The 24-year-old Markram has already captained South Africa, and 23-year-old Andile Phehlukwayo adds value in more ways than one, with his all-round capabilities.

Full Squad-

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

South Africa- Faf du Plessis (c), Quinton de Kock (vc & wk), David Miller, JP Duminy, Hashim Amla, Aiden Markram, Rassie van der Dussen, Dwaine Pretorius, Andile Phehlukwayo, Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Imran Tahir, Tabraiz Shamsi.

(With inputs from IANS)