Big picture: Can England bounce back on sticky Bloemfontein surface?
South Africa ticked an important box in their bid to automatically qualify for the 2023 World Cup with victory in the first ODI on Friday night. Even if they go on to lose the series, that one win is enough to keep their hopes of finishing in the World Cup Super League top eight alive. Though they will have to beat Netherlands 2-0 and hope other results go their way, Friday’s win has allowed them to keep their fate in their own hands. Five wins will guarantee them a spot in India, even though they’ve emphasised that results are not the main focus right now.
That may seem like a strange thing to say when their next four ODIs have so much riding on them but South Africa are concentrating more on building a white-ball identity after losing it in the last few years. The tenets of the new approach are not yet clear but it seems to be built on the principle of bouncebackability that has become synonymous with the South African DNA. Even when they looked 50 runs short with the bat after England stormed to 146 without loss inside 20 overs in a chase of 299, South Africa’s bowlers won them the game.
The result asked familiar questions of South Africa: how wide is the gulf between their batters and bowlers? And are their batters keeping up with modern scoring rates? The answer to the latter might be no, but it was enough to beat the World Cup holders, so there can hardly be much complaining with that.
Instead, they’ll look for ways to make their usually aggressive batting style more successful on a surface not always suited to free-flowing run-scoring. Bloemfontein’s pitches are known to be slightly sticky and get more challenging to bat on as the ball gets older and softer. England’s power game is not in doubt but the way they bottled Friday’s chase suggests there’s work to be done in the middle order.
With both teams figuring out their batting and boasting strong attacks, the Bloemfontein crowd are in for a treat and word is that many more of them are expected for Sunday’s match. It’s their last chance to see international cricket this summer and remind Cricket South Africa of their relevance to their country’s cricket circuit, with no SA20 team based in the Free State.
South Africa WLLWL (last five completed ODIs, most recent first)
In the spotlight: Sisanda Magala and Sam Curran
Sisanda Magala put in his best performance in national colours on Friday, when he broke the opening stand that threatened to turn the match into a one-sided contest in England’s favour and then took two more wickets to give South Africa an advantage. Magala, who is usually a new-ball bowler, adapted well to being used as fourth change, and was particularly effective with the bouncer. While South Africa are not short of options in the seam-bowling department, he adds to the variety of the attack and could use the rest of the series to push for a more permanent white-ball place.
Team news: Archer, Parnell could be rested
Temba Bavuma’s move to the opening berth will likely keep Janneman Malan and Reeza Hendricks on the bench for now. Although their bowlers won them the first ODI, South Africa may consider some changes in the attack. Tabraiz Shamsi had a poor outing on Friday and may make way for Keshav Maharaj while South Africa may want to see what Marco Jansen can do on a benign track in place of Wayne Parnell.
South Africa: 1 Quinton de Kock (wk), 2 Temba Bavuma (capt), Rassie van der Dussen, 4 Aiden Markram, 5 Heinrich Klaasen, 6 David Miller, 7 Wayne Parnell/Marco Jansen, 8 Sisanda Magala, 9 Keshav Maharaj, 10 Kagiso Rabada, 11 Anrich Nortje
Any changes to England’s line-up will depend on the health of Phil Salt, who sat out the series-opener with the illness that has also kept him out of the SA20. With Archer’s return to international cricket being managed carefully, he may make way for Reece Topley. Chris Woakes may get a game ahead of Olly Stone.
England: 1 Jason Roy, 2 Dawid Malan, 3 Ben Duckett, 4 Harry Brook, 5 Jos Buttler (capt & wk), 6 Moeen Ali, 7 Sam Curran, 8 David Willey, 9 Jofra Archer/Reece Topley, 10 Adil Rashid, 11 Chris Woakes/Olly Stone.
Pitch and conditions: Expect a flat and slow surface
Sunday’s match will be played on a fresh strip, more towards the middle of the square, but don’t expect too much more life. Flat and relatively slow could mean run-scoring proceeds much like it did on Friday: quickly with the new ball, and slightly more tricky later on. There will also be the added challenge of the heat. It’s a day game, so players will be under 32-degree sun for most of the encounter.
Stats and trivia
- Before Friday, England were the only one of the 10 teams South Africa had played against in Bloemfontein that they had not beaten. They have played each other five times at the venue, England have won three, South Africa one, and one match has been tied.
- England and South Africa have drawn their last two ODI series (in 2022 and 2020), and England won the previous two. South Africa have not beaten England in an ODI series since 2016.
- Wayne Parnell needs three wickets to reach 100 ODI wickets. He will be the 13th South Africa to reach the milestone.
“Whenever you beat England, it gives you great confidence. They’re world champions and the way they have been playing over the last few years, it’s always a feather in our cap as a team. We’re not really thinking about qualification. If we need to go qualify, we’ll go qualify; if not, and we end up winning two or three of these last games, then that’s also okay. We’ll take it game by game. The resolve the guys showed today – there’s been a lot happening over the last two weeks with the SA20 – the way the guys came out and refocused on what we want to achieve this week is unbelievable.”
South Africa are concentrating on beating England before turning their attention to the bigger picture of World Cup qualification, according to Rassie van der Dussen
“From my point of view, it’s giving him a bit of time. It’s a big, big step-up to come and bowl 10 overs in international cricket, which adds a higher level of intensity again. He’s going to get better and better and better the more games he plays.”
Jos Buttler believes Jofra Archer will only improve as he continues his return to international cricket after almost two years on the sidelines
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent
(With Inputs from ESPN)
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