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Proteas face uphill climb

The Proteas have left themselves with a mountain to climb by having to beat India at the Oval on Sunday to remain in the Champions Trophy. The coaching staff and players will be feeling the pressure leading into this all-or-nothing match.

The loss to Pakistan was a poor performance by the number-one ranked ODI team in the world. Pakistan is ranked at No 8 and only just managed to scrape into the tournament. Their recent one-day form hasn't been good either.

For Pakistan to defeat the Proteas they had to be at their absolute best and the Proteas below par on the day. That is unfortunately exactly what happened.

At the outset the selectors made an error. The surface at Edgebaston was used for the third time in this tournament. In England it is common knowledge that used surfaces slow down and favour spinners.

Keshav Maharaj should have been selected as a second specialist spinner in front of Wayne Parnell. Pakistan, on the other hand, summed up conditions well and played three spinners.

In my last column I cautioned against opening the bowling with Parnell. Yet again this strategy was persevered with, even considering that the Proteas were defending a modest total. The most likely wicket takers with the new ball had to start proceedings. The fact that this didn't happen was inexplicable.

The form of AB de Villiers has been a concern. It is not easy to drift in and out of the international scene and remain a dominant force, even for someone as brilliant as De Villiers. Difficult as it may be, De Villiers himself, the coaching team, and the senior players will have to show strong leadership in an effort to put the defeat behind them and focus on the match on Sunday.

The equation for this match at the Oval is clear. The Proteas will have to improve in every department and play to the best of their ability if they are to prevail.

There has to be a change in the team selection, with Maharaj coming in for Parnell. Chris Morris, or preferably Morne Morkel, should take the new ball with Kagiso Rabada.

The Proteas also need Quinton de Kock and AB de Villiers to make significant contributions. De Kock has had two starts in the tournament and looked in reasonable form, whereas AB de Villiers has been totally out of sorts. When De Kock and De Villiers play well they take the game away from the opposition.

The surface at the Oval is good for batting and we can expect a high-scoring game. India is an excellent, well-balanced team but they can be beaten.

For that to happen, the Proteas will have to select the right combination, make the right tactical decisions and then play with far more intensity and passion.

This type of make-or-break match hasn't been a strong point for AB de Villiers and his team in ICC events. Hopefully that is about to change on Sunday.

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