Cape Town – Heartened by their strong performance in the dead-rubber final Test, South Africa will nevertheless hobble into the start of the one-day international series against England with several fatigued or injured customers and some absentees.
They will be in much the same position for the five-match ODI challenge – beginning in Bloemfontein next Wednesday, a day/nighter -- as they were for the Tests in terms of depleted pace stocks.
Again Vernon Philander could not be considered (his domestic summer may well be over), while the Proteas camp confirmed after the Centurion Test match on Tuesday that Dale Steyn had been withdrawn and would play no part in the series.
It is hoped the latter may recover from his troublesome shoulder issue to get into the Twenty20 groove – respective mini-series against the English and then Australia – in time for the ICC World T20 in India in March.
That is pretty much the priority now, despite the fact that the ODIs should offer up engrossing cricket and represent an opportunity to get even with England (a vastly-improved outfit since their embarrassment at the 2015 World Cup) following the surrender of the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy.
The Proteas lie third in the 50-overs rankings at present, with England a slightly deceptive sixth.
Both enter the combat off impressive away series triumphs, the host nation having earned a first-time bilateral series win in India, and England a 3-1 victory over Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates.
As their squads stand, each country will also field several “crossover” players who saw at least some action in the Test series: the Proteas nine (AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy, Kyle Abbott, Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Morne Morkel, Chris Morris and Kagiso Rabada) and England eight (Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Alex Hales, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, James Taylor and Chris Woakes).
Both teams will have to manage player loads during the ODIs as a result -- and their fast bowlers who sent down plenty of Test overs in particular.
Here South Africa perhaps seem more at risk of burnout, as the absence of the Steyn-Philander factor hardly suggests weary customers like the recent sensation Rabada, and uncomplaining workhorse Morkel, will be able to get quite as much “rotation” in the series as the management might wish.
The situation is aggravated by the fact that Abbott, who will be expected to offer good accuracy and be a prime candidate for “death” duty, begins the series on the crocked list with his hamstring niggles – he is already ruled out, it seems, for at least the first ODI.
South Africa should very shortly announce an addition or two to the squad to beef the seam arsenal, but at the time of writing the only fully fit members of the squad in that respect are the overworked Morkel and Rabada, Chris Morris and part-timer Farhaan Behardien who is more of a batting factor.
Not for the first time in recent months, Morkel looks like being easily the most experienced SA paceman (103 appearances in the format) in the squad, at a time when he could really do with some feet-up ahead of the demands of another Indian-hosted T20 event.
It is unclear at this stage whether in-form Hashim Amla, one of the anchor batsmen in the ODI mix, is feeling any after-effects from the successive, painful finger blows he received in the second innings of the SuperSport Park Test – where he nevertheless added a brave 96 to his 109 the first time around.
It appeared he was “hidden” as much as possible in the field to keep him away from any close-catching responsibilities in England’s short-lived second knock when they were routed for 101.
Amla may be among a few Proteas players asked to either bite the bullet or summon reserves of energy – or both – in the ODIs ...
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