South Africa are set to play three Twenty20 Internationals against England, starting Friday (November 27) in Cape Town, and the series would serve as a perfect platform for the home team to get their act together and build a side for next year's T20 World Cup.
The Proteas made quite a few changes in their team management last season, but things haven't quite gone in their favour as they would have expected. There are hardly five-six players who are certain starters in South Africa's T20I XI, and there are number of spots still up for grabs. Meanwhile, England are a much better and settled side but they have got a few problems of their own too.
ENGLAND'S TOP-ORDER CONUNDRUM
Jason Roy, Jos Buttler, Dawid Malan, Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes - England have five batsmen in their XI who prefer batting in the top-order (1-3) and the team management will have to find a way to ensure this "problem of plenty" doesn't hurt them in the long run. Stokes produced good numbers while opening the innings for Rajasthan Royals in the IPL 2020, while Buttler was given the finisher's role. England head coach Chris Silverwood however has already indicated that they would stick with the opening combination of Roy and Buttler.
Meanwhile, the top-ranked T20I batsman Malan and Stokes have a tendency to start slowly before exploding in the second half of their innings and England will have to adjust them accordingly. Then there is Bairstow who is likely to get sandwiched between these two, which means skipper Eoin Morgan could see himself batting at No. 6. The left-hander has a strike rate of 215.5 in T20s in the last five overs of an innings since 2019, which is the second-most after AB de Villiers' 218.3 (minimum 100 balls faced), which means he could see himself fit into that role perfectly.
PACE, PACE, PACE... BUT, WHAT ABOUT SPIN?
Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Jofra Archer and Mark Wood have the ability to bowl at around 150kmph and you would expect these four to play a significant role in the series. Wood didn't play the IPL but the rest three were superb for their respective franchises. Rabada and Nortje formed a lethal combination for the runners-up Delhi Capitals, while Archer was named the Most Valuable Player of the season despite his team Rajasthan Royals finishing at the bottom of the points table.
It's not just these four, both South Africa and England have enough depth in their pace department. While the Proteas have Lungi Ngidi, Lutho Sipamla, Beuran Hendricks, Junior Dala and Glenton Stuurman in their set-up, England too could rely on the likes of Reece Topley, Chris Jordan and Tom Curran to do the job if and when needed. On top of that, both sides have some outstanding seam-bowling allrounders, but don't have quality backups in the spin department.
The next T20 World Cup will be held in India and both South Africa and England would want to have a backup ready for Tabraiz Shamsi and Adil Rashid respectively. The only backup England have for Rashid is Moeen Ali but the spin-bowling allrounder hasn't been used much in the nine T20Is he has played this year. Meanwhile, South Africa have three left-arm spinners - Keshav Maharaj, Bjorn Fortuin and George Linde - in their squad and you would expect to see all of them at some point in the T20I and ODI series.
PROTEAS NEED TO GET THEIR ACT RIGHT ASAP
There are lots of uncertainties in the South African batting order. Apart from Quinton de Kock, not a single South African batsman has a confirmed batting spot. Temba Bavuma did well as an opener against England but was ruled out of the Australia series because of an injury. The hosts have two other options in Reeza Hendricks and Janneman Malan, but they could stick with Rassie van der Dussen who opened the innings in two of the three T20Is against Australia in February.
Faf du Plessis did well for Chennai Super Kings as an opener but he is most likely to bat at No. 3 and batting him lower than that would make no sense. Meanwhile, three of David Miller, Jon-Jon Smuts, Heinrich Klaasen, Kyle Verreynne and Pite van Biljon are going to play in the middle-order. Someone like Smuts could give them a few overs of spin, while they could also add someone like Linde who could chip in with both bat and ball and is a proper allrounder.
South Africa: Quinton de Kock (c & wk), Rassie van der Dussen, Faf du Plessis, JJ Smuts, David Miller, Heinrich Klaasen/Kyle Verreynne, Andile Phehlukwayo, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Lungi Ngidi/Beuran Hendricks/George Linde, Tabraiz Shamsi.
England: Jason Roy, Jos Buttler (wk), Dawid Malan, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes, Eoin Morgan (c), Moeen Ali/Sam Curran, Chris Jordan, Adil Rashid, Jofra Archer, Tom Curran/Mark Wood.