Master batsman Virat Kohli and fast-bowling ace Dale Steyn will put their friendship to one side on Sunday when defending champions India tackle South Africa in a World Cup blockbuster in front of 80,000 people in Melbourne.
India and South Africa, two of the favourites for the title, go into the Pool B clash at the MCG with opening wins under their belts – India beating arch-rivals Pakistan by 76 runs while the Proteas clinched a 62-run victory over neighbours Zimbabwe.
Kohli has prospered at the MCG, making 169 and 54 during the drawn Test against Australia in December.
He followed that with a match-winning 107 in India’s World Cup opener against Pakistan in Adelaide.
However, Kohli and the other India batsmen now face a formidable South Africa attack that includes Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander, backed by Kyle Abbott and Wayne Parnell.
Kohli said it was an advantage having played alongside the fearsome Steyn and prolific AB de Villiers for the same Royal Challengers Bangalore franchise in the Indian Premier League.
“Dale is a good friend, I get the biggest hug from him when we meet,” he explained.
“But when we get on the field, he will look to dominate me and I will try to dominate him,” Kohli said.
De Villiers feels pitch will not suit Proteas pacemen
South Africa captain de Villiers believes the MCG pitch will not favour his fast bowlers, saying batsmen should thrive on it.
“I’ve played here in the past and I have never played at the MCG with a lot of pace and bounce,” de Villiers said ahead of the day/night Pool B game that will almost certainly lift the winner into the quarter-finals.
“It’s always been quite slow, which doesn’t suit us that well. The last game we played here against Australia (in November) was one of the slowest wickets I’ve ever batted on.”
The South Africans were severely tested with both bat and ball by Zimbabwe in their opener in Hamilton last Sunday.
The Proteas were wobbling at 4 for 83 before being bailed out by a brilliant record stand of 256 for the fifth wicket between century-makers David Miller and JP Duminy.
The last time the two sides met at a World Cup was at Nagpur in 2011 when India scored 296 all out off 48.4 overs, led by 111 from Sachin Tendulkar.
The Proteas responded with solid early knocks from Hashim Amla (61) and Jacque Kallis (69).
Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh took 3 for 53 to keep the hosts in with a shout before Faf du Plessis and Robin Peterson got the visitors home to win with two balls to spare.
Even though they lost the match, the Indians went on to win the World Cup on home soil.
If the MCG gets a finish like that again on Sunday, the crowd will be well satisfied.
AFP / ABC