England vs. South Africa, ODI series preview

With the ODI series starting tomorrow, it finally feels like the international summer has arrived and hence will likely give us a true indication on whether Director Comma was right to place such an emphasis on white ball cricket since his appointment. Without wanting to disrespect the West Indies or an Ireland team that is tragically starting to wane, the upcoming series will give us an idea as to whether England are the real deal in one day cricket or whether it has been another false dawn.

On paper, the South African side looks as strong as any in International cricket at this current juncture, with a plethora of talented batsmen, bowlers and all-rounders. The opening partnership of Quinton De Kock and Hashim Amla offers both explosive power and exquisite timing in order to get the South African team off to a flyer, with De Kock in particular, in prime form at the moment. Of course, any side boasting the talents of AB De Villiers are going to be a threat to the opposing bowling attack, even if he looked slightly out of sorts in the IPL and with the late power hitting abilities of David Miller and Chris Morris, the South African batting attack is certainly up there with the best. As for the bowling, it isn’t quite as formidable as the batting but still boasts the likes of Rabada, Morkel and of course Imran Tahir, who despite his quite frankly ridiculous wicket celebrations, is one of the premier spin bowlers in one day cricket.

As for England, it seems rather surreal that they have actually had a settled side in the lead up to the tournament. I keep waking up waiting to hear that Gary Ballance has been parachuted into the side, but so far England are approaching the tournament with alarming efficiency. However, this is going to be the acid test as we approach the Champions Trophy. We keep hearing from the England squad about how much they’ve improved, which they have and how they are now a match for anyone in white ball cricket. Indeed Sam Billings recently said:

“Previously in this country we haven’t made one-day cricket a priority as such, but now people are petrified of our side now and you only find that out by talking to them.

 It’s very interesting to hear what other internationals think of our side. It’s kind of gone full circle – people now think we have a seriously good squad. You’ve probably got ten more guys who could slot in and do well. It keeps everyone on their toes. 

Generally there’s a buzz around the reputation of the England team in white ball cricket – it’s amazing to think about that transition from two years ago.”

Now of course there is nothing wrong about being bullish about England’s chances in the Champions Trophy, but there is a fine line between positivity and overconfidence. It is worth still remembering that England are ranked number 5 in the ODI format and whilst other teams have a new found respect for England, I very much doubt that they are petrified. Certainly not yet.

As for the make up of the side, it is now a pretty settled team with only slight question marks around the identity of the number 7 and which fast bowler will get the nod alongside Woakes and Wood (if he can stay fit). The main school of thought will be that Moeen comes in at number 7, which provides England with 6 full time bowling options; however I wouldn’t be too surprised if England went with Root as the 6th bowler and someone like Billings coming in at 7 to be the so called finisher, especially if the pitches are not particularly spin friendly. As for the bowling, which is without doubt the weaker link of England’s ODI team, it seems like it is a straight fight between Willey and Plunkett to be the main third seamer in this team. As for Jonny Bairstow, who is in the form of his life, it does appear that he is condemned to be carrying the drinks unless one of the top 5 picks up an injury.

This summer and winter are likely to define the reigns of both Bayliss and Strauss in both red ball and white ball cricket, and both sorely need for England to be successful in the Champions Trophy to build momentum going into the Test Series. If England fall in heap in the Champions Trophy and then fail to beat South Africa in the Test series, there are going to be some very awkward questions to be answered in the build up to the Ashes tour. The rhetoric stops now, it’s all about what England can do on the park. An interesting summer of cricket certainly awaits.

As ever, thoughts and comments on the game below: