The return to international cricket has not been great for South Africa. While their stars - Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje - put up splendid individual performances during the 2020 IPL, playing as a unit along with an inexperienced core only took them to a 0-3 whitewash in the T20Is against England. The focus now shifts to the ODIs.
Though recent form in this format matters little for South Africa since they last played ODIs nine months ago, they will still yield confidence from a 3-0 series result against a competitive Australian side. Moreover, they found different match-winners in that series. Heinrich Klaasen, Jon-Jon Smuts and Janneman Malan were amongst the man-of-the-match award winners. Hence, the Quinton de Kock led side would like to feel that ODI cricket is currently their best format.
They are also emboldened by the inclusion of Rassie van der Dussen, who did not play South Africa’s previous ODI series and struck an excellent 74 in the third T20I. Although, they will continue to miss Kagiso Rabada as the leader of their bowling attack.
In the other camp, England have rested three players. Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer and Sam Curran were not picked to give them time away from the restrictions of the bio-bubble. However, the visitors are still the favorites for the series. Prior to the T20Is, Sam Billings said, “This (England’s white-ball setup) is the hardest sports team to get into in the world at the moment.”
While England’s batting takes care of itself despite no Stokes, there may be a few holes in their bowling line-up in the absence of Archer and Sam Curran. Chris Woakes becomes the leader of the attack but others are short of ODI experience of late. Tom Curran has been given a long rope but has been ineffective. Reece Topley, coming from a long injury lay-off has played a solitary ODI this year while Mark Wood has featured in only two of them. Lewis Gregory, yet to earn an ODI cap is the only other option in the squad.
This gives South Africa one area to exploit. De Kock, especially, did not get runs in the T20Is and will be waiting to explode. He has been South Africa’s highest scorer in ODIs since 2018, accruing 1,329 runs. However, in du Plessis’ absence, who is rested from the first ODI, the responsibility will be on him to see the team through with the bat. The last time these two sides locked horns in Cape Town, de Kock steered South Africa to an easy win with a hundred.
Meanwhile, South Africa’s bowling isn’t foolproof itself. Without Rabada, the most experienced bowler in the squad is Andile Phehlukwayo with 27 ODI caps to date. Lungi Ngidi - 26 ODI caps - will be the leader of the bowling attack.
Ngidi’s numbers evoke mixed emotions. He was brilliant in leading the attack earlier this year, also picking his career-best figures of six for 58 against Australia. His overall numbers during the death overs read an impressive average of 10.7 for his 19 wickets while conceding only at 6.3 runs per over. Although, he has gone for runs in recent memory. His form went up and down in the 2020 IPL and he was carted for 51 runs in the second T20I at Paarl. Which Ngidi turns up in the first ODI will be crucial for South Africa. It also sets him up nicely against Jos Buttler.
Malan, Smuts, Klaasen, David Miller were amongst the runs when South Africa last appeared in ODIs. However, van der Dussen also vouches for inclusion, given how he batted in the third T20I. It will be interesting to see who warms the bench. There could be a possibility that Smuts wins the race as he provides the sixth bowling option as well.
Janneman Malan, Quinton de Kock (c/wk), Temba Bavuma, Rassie van der Dussen, Heinrich Klaasen, JJ Smuts/David Miller, Andile Phehlukwayo, Anrich Nortje, Lungi Ngidi, Lutho Sipamla, Tabraiz Shamsi
The only thinking England need to do is regarding the number six spot. Do they continue with Sam Billings who has shown spark to take the spot in the longer run or do they go back to Moeen Ali to roll his arm over in Stokes’ absence? The fact that Root has bowled a fair bit this year works in Billings’ favour. Mark Wood did not feature in the T20Is and should be taking Archer’s spot to intimidate the opposition with pace.
Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan (c ), Jos Buttler, Sam Billings, Chris Woakes, Tom Curran, Adil Rashid, Mark Wood, Reece Topley/Olly Stone