The first match in a tournament of such vast magnitude is always important and South Africa's confidence will be at its lowest following back-to-back defeats.
Virat Kohli will embark on the most defining journey of his international career, carrying the hopes of more than a billion fans when he leads India against a struggling South Africa in their 2019 World Cup opener at Southampton on June 5.
Kohli is one of the best batsmen as of today, but this edition of the World Cup will define his legacy as a leader, an aspect on which the jury is still out despite some heady achievements in the Test arena.
The current team does have match-winners with the skipper himself being the biggest of them all, but it still misses the aura that the "class of 2011" had under Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Gautam Gambhir, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh were on a different league with support cast comprising Munaf Patel, Ashish Nehra, Suresh Raina and a young Kohli.
The current team, led by Kohli and mentored by Dhoni, has had its share of good results, and six wins in nine games would ensure them a smooth passage into the semis.
Two years have been spent on building this team into a potent ODI squad, something that started right after the 2017 Champions Trophy final loss to Pakistan.
The 'Men In Blue' have had adequate rest as most teams have already played two games. They're sure waiting to kick-start their 2019 campaign with a commanding performance.
The first match in a tournament of such vast magnitude is always important and South Africa's confidence will be at its lowest following back-to-back defeats against England and Bangladesh.
To make matters worse, fast bowler Lungi Ngidi is out with a hamstring strain, and senior speedster Dale Steyn is ruled out of the tournament and Hashim Amla got a nasty hit on the helmet off Jofra Archer against England in the opening game.
The clash couldn't possibly have been more well-timed as India have a chance to hold the Proteas by the scruff of their neck when they are seemingly at their weakest.
However, a cornered opponent is always a dangerous proposition and head coach Ravi Shastri will remind the team of the consequences of taking their foot off the pedal.
The pitch at the Ageas Bowl stadium in Southampton, devoid of grass cover, is expected to be batting-friendly, but Kohli will have a few points to ponder upon as the weather forecast on match day indicates cloud cover with intermittent shower.
Will a third seamer in Bhuvneshwar Kumar come into the picture? Will Ravindra Jadeja's form in the warm-up matches get credence over Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal's 22-month show in tandem? Does Kedar Jadhav fit in without playing a single game for a month or would Vijay Shankar get a look in?
These are some of the pressing questions that skipper Kohli needs to address going into the first game.
There's no doubt that the Proteas are badly hit by poor form and injuries, but it may just take one fiery spell from Kagiso Rabada to straighten things up.
A bit of help from the weather and his ability to move the ball could help Rabada unsettle the opening pair of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, who haven't had the best of form in the past few months.
Both are capable of turning the match on its head, but they could be short on confidence due to lack of runs since the start of the away ODIs against Australia.
Rohit's apparent weakness against leg-spinners could be exploited by rival captain Faf du Plessis, who can again think of giving the new ball to Imran Tahir.
KL Rahul is expected to take the No 4 slot, but it needs to be seen as to how he performs when the condition are nippy. Dhoni at No 5 will be the stabilising factor and if he bats like the Bangladesh warm-up game, he can be a nightmare for the Proteas attack.
But a bigger worry for Du Plessis is batting lineup where AB de Villiers' absence has had an impact. The poor technique of South African batsmen against slow bowlers has been time and again exposed and 20 overs of quality spin bowling could be too hot to handle for the African side.
All in all, it's advantage India at Southampton.
India: Virat Kohli (C), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, K L Rahul, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (WK), Hardik Pandya, Kedar Jadhav, Vijay Shankar, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Dinesh Karthik and Ravindra Jadeja.
South Africa: Faf du Plessis (C), Quinton de Kock (WK), Aiden Markram, Hashim Amla, JP Duminy, David Miller, Beuran Hendricks, Kagiso Rabada, Dwaine Pertorius, Andile Phehlukwayo, Tabraiz Shamshi, Imran Tahir, Lungi Ngidi, Chris Morris and Rassie van der Dussen.
Match timings and where to watch: The match starts at 3 pm IST. It will be broadcast live on StarSports network. Viewers can logon to Hotstar for all the live action.
Venue: The Rose Bowl, Southampton.
Pitch report and conditions: A flat batting track is expected to be on offer at the Rose Bowl, Southampton. The weather reports predict cloudy skies with chances of intermittent showers.
Team News: South Africa have been struggling with injuries to key players in their squad. Hashim Amla was hit flush on the helmet in the first game against England and didn't feature against Bangladesh. Ngidi suffered a hamstring strain against Bangladesh, while Steyn is ruled out of the tournament from a shoulder injury. South Africa have named Beuran Hendricks as a replacement player for Dale Steyn.
Kedar Jadhav seems to have recovered from his injury as he was seen taking part in two full-fledged net sessions. However, it remains to be seen if he will be picked with the weather predicting cloudy skies that will favour the pacers.
Possible XI (India): Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli (C), KL Rahul, MS Dhoni (WK), Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Mohammad Shami and Jasprit Bumrah.
Possible XI (South Africa): Quinton de Kock (WK), Aiden Markram, Faf du Plessis (C), Hashim Amla, Rassie van der Dussen, JP Duminy, Chris Morris, Andil Phehlukwayo, Kasigo Rabada, Beuran Hendricks and Imran Tahir.
Players to watch out for:
Virat Kohli (IND)
While Kohli has featured in both the 2011 and 2015 editions of the tournament, it will be the first World Cup fixture where he will be leading the side. Kohli will want to stamp his authority with a brilliant batting display.
Faf du Plessis (SA)
The South African captain didn't have a great outing against England where he managed just 5 runs. He bounced back in style with a quick 62-run innings against Bangladesh but it wasn't enough. Faf will want to lead from the front to help his team out of this difficult situation.
Betting Odds (bet365)
South Africa: 7/4
Other popular bets on the match can be checked on Oddschecker.
South Africa are vulnerable after losing both their opening fixtures and will be under great pressure when they take the field. India should win this game comfortably.(With Inputs from PTI)The Great Diwali Discount!
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