Teams look to resume battle in new format - First ODI preview
First One-Day International - South Africa v England in Bloemfontein
3rd February | 13:30 local | 11:30 GMT
Although South Africa have struggled in Test cricket in recent months, their one-day form has been good, beating New Zealand at home and India away. In their last ODI in Mumbai, they scored 438.
England, though, are a one-day side on the rise. A comfortable 3-1 series win in the United Arab Emirates against Pakistan showed Eoin Morgan’s side are maturing and capable in all conditions. It should be a series with plenty of interest.
Compared to England’s young thrusters, South Africa’s 13-man squad contains only four players under 28 years of age. It is a team for the here and now but one that contains two of the current top three batsmen in ODI cricket.
The home side’s bowling attack will be missing its own stellar player. Dale Steyn, who missed much of the Test series with a shoulder injury, has been ruled out of all five games.
South Africa are keeping their fingers crossed that their spearhead will be fit for the World Twenty20 in India next month. Time is running out.
In Steyn’s absence, Morne Morkel and Kasigo Radaba will lead the seam bowling attack, supplemented by Chris Morris and all-rounder Farhaan Behardien.
David Wiese and Marchant de Lange have been added to the squad in the last two days, in part because Morkel and Radaba will be rested at some point during the series.
Imran Tahir, who is approaching his 37th birthday, will provide the leg-spin option.
Variety is the key to a successful one-day attack and South Africa’s battery of fast-medium right arm bowlers strikes this observer as too similar. There is a chance England’s batsmen could line them up.
Left armer Wayne Parnell was due to play for South Africa A in their tour match against England but had to pull out due to injury. He would have been close to making the squad ahead of either Wiese or de Lange and would have provided a different option.
It is the batting which is South Africa’s clear strength. Wicket-keeper Quntion de Kock, who has eight ODI hundreds, will open the batting alongside Hashim Amla, ranked the number three ODI batsman in the world. They will be followed by Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers making up a strong top order.
Last year, de Villiers scored a breath-taking ODI century off just 31 balls against the West Indies and is justifiably ranked as the best one-day player in the world.
When on song, he is perhaps the hardest batsman to bowl at in world cricket such is his range of shots and ability to score all around the wicket.
England’s bowling will have to combat de Villiers without the pace of Steven Finn, England’s best bowler of the Test series and a key part of their one-day attack. His replacement is Stuart Broad who has been recalled for his first white ball cricket since last year’s World Cup.
Where South Africa’s attack lacks variety, England’s has plenty with Reece Topley and David Willey providing left-arm options. It is likely that only one will play as Ben Stokes, who missed the one-dayers in the UAE, returns for this series.
With Chris Woakes and Chris Jordan also in the squad, competition is fierce in the bowling attack. Jordan took three wickets against South Africa A but Woakes has fared better for England in white ball cricket, where he is entrusted with the new ball and to bowl at the death, than he has in Tests. He is likely to play.
The two certainties are Stokes and Adil Rashid, England’s leg-spinner, who had an excellent Big Bash competition in Australia.
England’s bowling stocks look strong, but so too does their batting. James Taylor scored a hundred against South Africa A and Jonny Bairstow scored 58 off 33 balls. Neither are likely to play in Bloemfontein.
Alex Hales, fresh from an indifferent Test series, should feel more comfortable in coloured clothing and will open with Jason Roy, both of whom scored their maiden ODI hundreds in the UAE. Joe Root will bat at three with Morgan at four.
While their top order is promising, England’s middle order is world class. If there is a more dynamic middle order in the world than Jos Buttler, Stokes and Moeen Ali it will have to go some. This is the real point of difference between the two sides; if England’s middle order fires, they will win the series.
The Mangaung Oval in Bloemfontein has only hosted five ODIs in the last 10 years, all of which have been won by South Africa. History suggests it is a good place to bat, with scores over 250 a regular occurrence.
The five match series is not top on the list of priorities for either side with the T20 World Cup fast approaching but it still holds interest. England’s improvement in one-day cricket needs to continue and South Africa will want to put their recent Test struggles behind them.
Beating South Africa at home in any format is tough. Winning the Test series was a fine achievement for England and doing the same in the one-day series would be another impressive scalp for this ever improving squad of players.
England’s one-day cricket has been excellent in the last year and even though South Africa are at home, England should have enough to win this first game, especially after their dominating performance in the warm-up game.
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