Cardiff: The five-match ODI series between England and South Africa will kick-off on Friday at Sophia Gardens, Cardiff. England were soundly thrashed 2-0 in the recently concluded Test series against South Africa and conceded their No. 1 ranking to the visitors.
England are presently ranked No. 1 in ODI rankings, followed by South Africa. Though the last one year showed that rankings and past record don't account for much when two top sides lock horns, it must be stressed that England are a very balanced limited-overs side, despite the absence of their star batsman Kevin Pietersen. They have done exceptionally well of late and ODI series promises to be more competitive and compelling than Test series.
The inclusion of a string of ODI specialists will infuse vigour in England squad and they would look to have their vengeance for the 2-0 drubbing in Test series at the hands of South Africa. England have played 12 matches this year, 10 resulted in victories while other two were called off. They routed Pakistan 4-0 earlier this earlier at Abu Dhabi, pummeled West Indies 2-0 and caned Australia 4-0 at home. They'll take confidence from the fact that they're undefeated this year in ODI format and have whitewashed three top teams.
South Africa too had a good outing this year in ODIs. They beat Sri Lanka 3-2 at home before demolishing New Zealand 3-0 in their backyard. On paper, both teams look strong though England have a clear edge. Alastair Cook has been in superb form since he became the captain of ODI team. But England would be counting a lot on him to give the team a good start along with Ian Bell.
Bell put up a sparkling show in his last two ODI series against West Indies and Australia. He was drafted into the ODI team in place of Kevin Pietersen and showed creditable consistency to be adjudged Man of the Series against Australia. Ravi Bopara may not be considered a good Test batsman but he has cemented his place in the ODI side by churning out a spate of match-winning innings. Ian Morgan and Craig Kieswetter are specialist ODI players and capable of scoring brisk runs. For the middle-order spot, it will be a close call between Jonny Bairstow and Jonathan Trott.
On the other hand, South Africa's batting will depend on Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla and Ab de Villiers. Both Ab de Villiers and Amla are the batsmen in form for South Africa. De Villiers remained unbeaten in five out his last six ODI innings and struck two centuries and a score of 96. He's the biggest threat to England bowlers.
Smith showed signs of coming back into the form by blasting a century against Sri Lanka but it has been more than six months since he played that innings. Faf du Plessis is fine attacking batsman and he would have the responsibility of supporting De Villiers in absence of Jacques Kallis.
JP Duminy and Dean Elgar are the other specialist batsmen in their squad. While Duminy has established himself as a fine No. 5 batsman in ODIs, Elgar will make his debut in this series. Albie Morkel is more explosive than reliable batsman and could be promoted if South Africa need quick runs.
Dale Steyn heads the bowling department of South Africa but Lonwabo Tsotsobe could be their trump card. The left-arm medium pacer doesn't have blistering pace but variations in his bowling can come handy in English conditions.
Morne Morkel is in good rhythm but what will hurt South Africa, a quality spinner in their side provided Imran Tahir gets a nod for the opening one-dayer.
For England, Finn is the one who's in the best form. James Anderson and Tim Bresnan have been consistent performers, snapping up a couple of wickets every match. Graeme Swann wasn't effective in Test matches against South Africa but his quality is undeniable. Samit Patel adds variety to the attack rather than sting.
Out of nine matches played at Sophia Gardens, seven have yielded results and astonishingly, every match is won by the team batting second. The pitch is a belter and a high scoring contest is in the offing.
England: 1 Alastair Cook (capt), 2 Ian Bell, 3 Ravi Bopara, 4 Ian Morgan, 5 Jonny Bairstow, 6 Craig Kieswetter (wk), 7 Tim Bresnan, 8 Steven Finn, 9 Jade Dernbach, 10 Graeme Swann, 11 James Anderson
South Africa: 1 Hashim Amla, 2 Graeme Smith, 3 Faf du Plessis, 4 AB de Villiers (capt & wk), 5 JP Duminy, 6 Dean Elgar, 7 Albie Morkel, 8 Morne Morkel, 9 Dale Steyn, 10 Robin Petersen, 11 Lonwabo Tsotsobe