Just as the build-up to the much anticipated summer showpiece had its thunder stolen by some meaningless ODI thrashings, so the fall-out must suffer a similar fate. The cricketing world would all much rather continue sticking the boot into England than start their tour of the nation’s darkest outposts in Cardiff today but, unfortunately for all involved, that’s the way the cookie crumbles. In perhaps the first ever international game to act as a warm-up for a domestic final, a South African win would see them become the top ranked side in all forms of the game, having overtaken their opponents in each within the space of about a month.
In terms of team selection, Stuart Broad is the most notable absentee – rested for the format he is actually competent at – while Ravi Bopara has decided he can now be bothered to play. England’s top three will be as electrifying as ever and under even more pressure than usual, now that they come up against a team who have some vague idea of how to play the game. We’d really like to see them give Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes a good run here but that seems fairly unlikely; without Broad it’s difficult to see England sticking with the five front-line bowlers plan which obliterated Australia (ah, the good old days) so Samit Patel will probably play.
Given Matt Prior’s superb Test series and ridiculous T20 form for Sussex, this series followed by the World Cup may well be make or break for Craig Kieswetter’s international career.
Not least because the hounding out of South African born players appears to be a new management policy. It isn’t necessarily his fault; his ‘keeping has improved a lot and his batting has been steady enough, but the best wicket-keeper batsman in the Test arena is waiting in the wings. Despite Prior’s fairly mediocre returns in one day cricket so far, his reputation demands he be considered and Kieswetter must rise to the challenge.
We had in our minds that the South African side was a terrifying outfit; eleven world class players with destruction on their minds. It isn’t. It’s a slightly strange combination of excellence mixed with mediocre and a dash of hilarious incompetence on top. We pride ourselves on having some idea about every player to grace the international stage but even we haven’t got the faintest clue who Dean Elgar is. We do, however, know a bit about Ryan McLaren, and we hope you appreciate the effort it took to keep a straight face writing that. Justin Ontong is wandering about somewhere too, while Pune star Wayne Parnell is also on the trip. The tourists have far more potential matchwinners in their side but they also look more vulnerable than we were expecting.
Having spent the Test series managing an unnecessarily high workload, AB de Villiers might have fancied a week off at some stage. Instead, he adds the role of captain to that of ‘keeper and star batsman, having taken over from Graeme Smith at the beginning of the year. He will have earned his money by the time they finally get home. Smith remains in the team, though it is his opening partner who will probably be the biggest thorn in England’s side. Hashim Amla – you may have heard of him – is, according to the infallible ICC rankings, an even better one day batsman than he is in the longer form. Oh dear.
It’s a little tough to get excited about this series; it feels like an inconvenience to two sides who would rather be using the next fortnight to prepare for the T20 World Cup. That said, we’ve hardly had any competitive international cricket all summer and this may finally be the series that comes to life. South Africa will start as favourites, for good reason, but England have developed a potent bowling attack in ODI’s over the past year and if that fires they’ll be in with a shout. We’re sure we’ve said something like that before…
5 4-0. Now where’s that tonic?