After a topsy-turvy T20I series, in which South Africa’s heaviest-ever short-form defeats were punctuated with a from-behind win at Port Elizabeth, these two sides head into a three-match ODI series devoid of any context in contrasting shape.
Australia have picked their full-strength side, albeit with Glenn Maxwell still missing through injury, and will hope that lessons learned in their 2-1 defeat in India will stand them in good stead. In that series, it was a familiar story to the World Cup, with impressive top-order form not supported by a faltering middle order. With Ashton Turner left out, it seems likely that Mitchell Marsh and Matthew Wade will have the opportunity to prove themselves in those roles, while Marnus Labuschagne continues his fledgling ODI career.
Meanwhile, it seems that South Africa will use this series as another opportunity to have a look at some untested faces. Faf du Plessis, Rassie van der Dussen and Dwaine Pretorius have been rested after a long home summer, with Keshav Maharaj handed a chance to take his Test form into the 50-over format and Lutho Sipamla, Janneman Malan and Kyle Verreynne among the men looking to demonstrate their ability to step up to international level.
Also returning is Temba Bavuma, who ended up missing the entirety of the T20I series with a hamstring injury suffered in the field against England. He will hope to resume his partnership with Quinton de Kock, whether as an opener or at No. 3. The pair were sublime together at Newlands against England, picking off any width and haring between the wickets as they put on 173 for the second wicket. With de Kock looking to prove his ability to bat, captain and keep wicket at the same time, his battle against Mitchell Starc – who castled him twice in the T20I series – should make for box-office viewing.
That triple-threat might seem like a mouth-watering combination in terms of the side’s balance, but history does not favour the move: only three men (Adam Gilchrist, Andy Flower, Alec Stewart) have done it more than ten times in ODIs and it proved tricky for all of them, with their batting returns taking a hit. Much as it seems like South Africa wish to persevere with de Kock in a three-pronged role for this World Cup cycle, a lean series will prompt plenty of testing questions about his workload.
Perhaps surprisingly given where the sides are at this moment in time, South Africa have a brilliant recent record against Australia, with eight wins in their last nine ODIs against them. It is all too easy to forget South Africa’s consolation win against these opponents in the 45th and final game of the World Cup’s group stage last year, in which du Plessis and van der Dussen set things up before Kagiso Rabada finished things off, while Australia’s last bilateral series win on these shores came in October 2011, when Michael Clarke captained them to a 2-1 victory.
(last five completed matches, most recent first)
South Africa LWWWL
In the spotlight
Anrich Nortje was hugely impressive in his maiden ODI series against Sri Lanka last spring, but missed out on the World Cup due to an injury. He was a match-winner in the Port Elizabeth T20I, closing out the game with a brilliant last over and conceding only 24 from his full allocation, and had his tail up in the decider at Newlands when he removed David Warner after a brief war of words. But Steve Smith struck 20 off his final over to leave his figures severely dented, and he’ll be eager to resume the battle at Paarl.
Marnus Labuschagne‘s irresistible Test form – plus a more-than-useful record in domestic 50-over cricket for Queensland – won him an ODI call-up for the India tour, but his debut series told us little we didn’t know about him: after a ‘thanks for coming’ debut, in which he neither batted, bowled nor took a catch, he made fluent scores of 46 and 54 in the third and fourth games, but on both occasions it felt like he had left plenty more out there. Back in his native South Africa, he should have the opportunity to continue at No. 4 on some good batting wickets, and thereby as good a chance as he will be afforded to make himself a lock in that role.
Bavuma is expected to be fit to play after his hamstring injury, but Janneman Malan – the leading South African run-scorer in the Mzansi Super League, and brother of Pieter – will make his ODI debut if not. Kyle Verreynne, the 22-year-old Cobras wicketkeeper, is set to win his cap as a specialist batsman in the middle order, while South Africa are likely to resist the temptation to pick two frontline spinners, instead partnering Tabraiz Shamsi with allrounder Jon-Jon Smuts.
South Africa (possible): 1 Quinton de Kock (wk, captain), 2 Temba Bavuma/Janneman Malan, 3 Heinrich Klaasen, 4 Jon-Jon Smuts, 5 David Miller, 6 Kyle Verreynne, 7 Andile Phehlukwayo, 8 Kagiso Rabada, 9 Lungi Ngidi, 10 Anrich Nortje, 11 Tabraiz Shamsi
Australia’s side appears relatively settled, with few changes expected from the side that played in India. With Labuschagne continuing at No. 4 and Alex Carey taking the gloves, Mitchell Marsh could get a go in the middle order, despite his struggles against pace-off options in the T20I series. With the ball, the only real question mark is over the identity of the third seamer, with Josh Hazlewood, Kane Richardson, and Jhye Richardson pushing for inclusion.
Australia (possible): 1 Aaron Finch, 2 David Warner, 3 Steven Smith, 4 Marnus Labuschagne, 5 Mitchell Marsh, 6 Alex Carey, 7 Ashton Agar, 8 Mitchell Starc, 9 Pat Cummins, 10 Kane Richardson/Josh Hazlewood, 11 Adam Zampa
Pitch and conditions
It’s set to be a scorcher in Paarl: it’s been hot, dry and windy for the past two days, and it could get up towards the high 30-degrees mark tomorrow. The pitch is typically good for batting, but the surface could be dry enough to take some turn. Boland Park is a small ground, and tickets sold out ten days ago. There is a wild fire raging through the Du Toitskloof Pass which is near the area, fuelled by the wind, which could cause some visibility issues.
Stats and trivia
- Temba Bavuma’s average of 61.80 is the fifth-highest of any batsman with five or more ODI innings to their name. Rassie van der Dussen, rested for this series, is top (70.70)
- Only Ricky Ponting (29) has more ODI hundreds for Australia than David Warner, who can pull clear of Mark Waugh in joint-second with a ton in this series
- Lungi Ngidi should reach the 50-wicket mark in this series, with 44 scalps in his 24 ODIs to date
- The seamers have done the damage in the last two ODIs in Paarl, taking 23 wickets at a combined average of 27.95 compared to spinners’ tally of nine at 46.44
“It’ll be exciting to play in front of my family here. There will be north of 20 of them. I’ve never played cricket over here since 2003 or 2004 when I was very small. It’s nice for them, they’ve seen my career from a distance but haven’t been able to see it unfold live. It’ll be a really nice moment to share that with them.”
Marnus Labuschagne is thrilled to be playing in his native South Africa
“The wind in Paarl is always something you’ve got to take into account. There’s longer and shorter boundaries, so you’ve got to be smart in the way that you go about things. We’ve played enough international cricket to know that it plays a major part.”
South Africa coach Mark Boucher hopes that his side can adapt to the challenge of playing at a boutique venue
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98
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