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Cricket news - Favourites and hosts, England begin at the beginning

England have set the standard for free-wheeling run scoring but can they rein it in when the situation demands?

At last, the phony war is over. After all the hype, all the talk, all the analysis of the runners and riders, the 2019 World Cup finally begins on Thursday at The Oval. For the next seven weeks, cricket will more or less take centre stage in England, notwithstanding the two European football finals this week involving four English clubs. Ten teams, 48 matches and only one winner in the first World Cup to be staged in this country in 20 years. It should be the very best of times.

England, ranked number one in the world, will open the tournament in south London as favourites but in the knowledge that each one of the nine other teams will provide their own unique challenge. England may have barely put a foot wrong since the disastrous World Cup campaign of four years ago, winning 17 of their 22 series in that time, but luck will play a role in whoever wins the competition. England will hope for just enough to see them through.

Without much fuss, their opponents, South Africa, are peaking at just the right time and have won 16 of their last 21 ODIs. They trounced Sri Lanka in their first warm-up match last week and although their second against West Indies was eventually abandoned, in the play that was possible there were impressive runs for Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock at the top of the order. South Africa may not be fancied by many but there is real quality and experience in a squad that could well mount a creditable challenge.

Despite Dale Steyn being ruled out of this match with the shoulder injury that curtailed his spell at the IPL, Faf du Plessis can still call on Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Andile Phehlukwayo to lead the attack. He also has Imran Tahir, whose leg-spin was so influential in Chennai Super Kings' run to the IPL final, to follow. It is a bowling line-up which will look to take wickets and bowl teams out - du Plessis said as much during the pre-match press conference - and with the pace of Rabada and Ngidi and the guile of Tahir, they certainly have the tools to trouble any batting line-up even before Steyn returns.

They will, of course, be bowling to arguably the best set of batsmen in the competition on Thursday. England have broken new ground in the last four years, setting the standard for free-wheeling run scoring which others have attempted to follow. They are the only side to have scored at better than a run-a-ball since the last World Cup and there has been no sign in either the series against Pakistan or their two warm-up games that they are about to change course now.

If there is one question mark against this order, however, it is whether they can rein themselves in when conditions are tilted in the batsmen's favour, settling for 300 rather than aiming for 350 and getting bundled out for much less. It was their downfall in the Champions Trophy semi-final against Pakistan in 2017, and they have previous instances against South Africa in that regard too. In the series before that Champions Trophy, Rabada reduced England to 20 for six at Lord's on a juicy wicket as the home side's batsmen went down in a blaze of wafts outside off-stump.

Most teams who win the toss in this World Cup are expected to chase and if South Africa bowl first under grey cloud and on a pitch which was tinged with green the day before the game, Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow will need their wits about them to avoid a repeat of that Lord's debacle. "Finding a way to adapt if that's the scenario with the 10.30 starts is a challenge we're going to have to overcome," Morgan said.

These teams have met six times previously in World Cups with three wins apiece while the last bilateral series between them was the three-match rubber before the 2017 Champions Trophy, which England won 2-1. Morgan's men are favourites this time around too but in a one-off game, with the added pressure of it being the first of a World Cup, anything can happen. It's going to be a fun seven weeks.

When: Thursday May 30, 2019 at 10:30am Local Time

Where: The Oval, London

What to expect: Although The Oval is generally good for batting, the pitch had a distinctly green look to it 24 hours before the start of the match - although some of that may be shaved off before the match. There was also some wet weather around in London on Wednesday but the forecast for the game itself is dry but cloudy. An early start, a green pitch and some cloud cover. Who says being a bowler can't be fun anymore?

Team News

England

Eoin Morgan says he knows his eleven for the match but will not reveal it until the toss. The batting order is set in stone and so the only decision will have been in the seam bowling attack. Mark Wood, still working his way back to fitness, may sit out with Jofra Archer and Chris Woakes likely to take the new ball and Liam Plunkett the third seamer.

Possible XI: Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Jofra Archer, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid

South Africa

Without Steyn, South Africa have to choose between Chris Morris or Dwaine Pretorius as the fourth seamer. And if all-out attack is their bowling plan then Morris, slightly quicker, may get the nod. In the batting department, despite a poor IPL, David Miller is likely to be preferred to the inexperienced Rassie van der Dussen.

Possible XI: Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Aiden Markram, Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy, David Miller, Chris Morris, Andile Phehlukwayo, Kasigo Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Imran Tahir

What they said:

Eoin Morgan: "Level of expectation and the favourites tag is there for a reason. Our form over the last two years at home in particular has been outstanding. In other World Cups we've gone in with very little expectation and not done very well. I'd pick this position over that."

Faf du Plessis: "For us as a leadership group, it's trying to find how can we be most attacking and trying to get wickets. Obviously that was with Dale included but that changed now, so we'll look at setting up our team to try to make sure we can get guys on the team that can get wickets."

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