It’s not often that a series against England is considered to be a stepping stone to better things, but the Proteas’ three-match, one-day international rubber against the poms – beginning on Wednesday and finishing on Monday – has been reduced to exactly that because of the looming ICC Champions Trophy.
So, what should have been a spirited start to a tour that included a T20 and test series has been relegated to warm-up games for the Champions Trophy competition, which begins on June 1.
South Africa goes into the series looking to answer questions that will fine-tune the Proteas in their search of that elusive major ICC trophy – they have so far only won the inaugural tournament, which was played in 1998.
The Proteas last lost a series in a bilateral tour against Bangladesh in 2015. Since then, they have elevated themselves to the number one team in the world, with top-ranked bowler Imran Tahir, and CSA Award winners Quinton de Kock and Kagiso Rabada leading the charge.
Warriors coach Malibongwe Maketa, who recently led his team to the domestic T20 and One-Day Cup finals against the Titans, tried to answer the few questions that were still rattling around about what looks like a well-oiled Proteas machine.
1. Who opens with Kagiso Rabada, a bowler or an all-rounder?
I think a guy like Morné Morkel will struggle to get a game with Chris Morris bowling and batting as well as he is. The thing about the South African attack is that they are very aggressive.
You’ve got Rabada, Tahir and Morris, who is also a natural wicket-taker, so I think the other opening spot will go to an all-rounder.
2. Is the number seven batting position still an issue?
The top six has been the same for the past five games, which allows the coach to be flexible. The top six is settled and they have four genuine all-rounders in Morris, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius and Wayne Parnell.
I think they will go with a ‘horses for courses’ approach. They’ll probably have Pretorius bat at seven, with Morris at eight and then either Phehlukwayo or Parnell at nine.
3. Who are the go-to men at the death?
You’ve got Rabada and Morris; with Phehlukwayo or Parnell to support them if they miss their marks.
I expect them to get Pretorius to finish his overs because of a lack of pace and because he is slightly predictable in how he bowls.
4. Will surprise selection Keshav Maharaj be used as an ace up the sleeve?
I don’t think they’ll need Maharaj with JP Duminy in the squad.
Also, with the way Tahir is bowling, you’re almost guaranteed a 10-over spell.
They’ll watch what he can do against England, but I don’t think he’ll get much game time in the Champions Trophy.
5. What will the Proteas’ greatest weapon be?
Our fielding will be a key component of our success. It has been before, because it puts pressure on other teams.
Working to get it back to those standards will be no different in this series.