South Africa aim to back up top billing
August 31, The Oval
Start time 1300 (1200 GMT)
South Africa are tempted to smirk at England's captaincy predicament, with Andrew Strauss' resignation after the defeat in the Test series still fresh in the mind, and gossip sounding about how much damage Kevin Pietersen's stand-off with the powers-that-be is causing English cricket. The England dressing room was a sad place in Southampton when Strauss stood down and if the opposition are not at their best it all helps South Africa implant their status as the best side in world cricket.
Delve too deeply, however, and before too long they will have issues of their own. Nobody is sure quite how long Graeme Smith will want to continue as Test captain and whether South Africa's rise to No. 1 in the Test rankings has silenced for the time being his occasional musings that he would like to finish his international career as a respected senior player with no leadership responsibilities.
The odds are that Smith is a leader in Test cricket until the day he retires, but that all puts the spotlight on his replacement in the one-day side, AB de Villiers. He has recently taken on the triple role of batsman, wicketkeeper and captain in one-day cricket, but surely to do that at Test level, after Mark Boucher's tragic accident, would be unthinkable. Comparisons with MS Dhoni, who fulfils all three roles but bats at No. 7, are not entirely valid.
This is de Villiers' third series in charge and in Southampton it all went swimmingly. Already he seems to be confirmed to keep wicket in the Test series in Australia before the New Year. Ranked No. 1 in all three formats or not, those youthful looks could soon be coming under pressure.
(Most recent first, completed matches)
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Ravi Bopara's place seems assured in England's top six because of his ability to share a bowling spot with Samit Patel so that makes it hard to include the new kid on the block, Jonny Bairstow. One way to balance things up would be for England to play five specialist bowlers. The lack of Graeme Swann at No. 9 - he is rested for the last three ODIs - as a dangerous tail-ender makes this less likely, if not out of the question.
Robin Peterson, once forced into a stock bowler's role, now regards himself as South Africa's attack dog in one-day cricket. When he conceded runs, captains and coaches used to question his ability. Then two years ago, he was given more licence to attack, finished the World Cup as South Africa's leading wicket-taker and is now established in the side.
Pitch and conditions
It has rained in England seemingly since time began. It is not going to be quick.
Swann's withdrawal from the rest of the series means a probable return for James Tredwell, while Chris Woakes could oust Tim Bresnan after the latter's expensive showing at West End.
England (probable) 1 Alastair Cook (capt), 2 Ian Bell, 3 Jonathan Trott, 4 Ravi Bopara, 5 Eoin Morgan, 6 Craig Kieswetter (wk), 7 Samit Patel, 8 Chris Woakes, 9 James Tredwell, 10 James Anderson, 11 Steve Finn.
South Africa have not taken their media commitments very seriously since the end of their victorious Test series. They were an hour late for the media conference for The Oval by which time pretty much everyone had lost interest so it is hard to know what they will do. Albie Morkel is ruled out, though Dale Steyn could be closer to a return.
South Africa (probable) 1 Graeme Smith, 2 Hashim Amla, 3 JP Duminy, 4 Dean Elgar, 5 AB de Villiers (capt, wk), 6 Faf du Plessis, 7 Wayne Parnell, 8 Ryan McLaren, 9 Robin Peterson, 10 Morne Morkel, 11 Lonwabo Tsotsobe.
Stats and trivia
- England's appointment of Alastair Cook as Test captain in succession to Andrew Strauss ends their unique reliance on different captains for all three formats of the game.
- Paul Collingwood first suspected that Strauss was planning to retire when he told him he had bought a dog.
- South Africa last won an ODI at The Oval against England in 1999.
"I jagged one down to him, he ducked under it and fell over. I remember the coach shouting from the back of the net, 'You just got put on your arse by a 14-year-old!'"
Steven Finn, the England fast bowler, recalls the first time he encountered outgoing Test captain Andrew Strauss
"I like to take wickets instead of containing people. It's probably the way one-day cricket has gone these days: the only way to control the run rate is by taking wickets all the time."
Robin Petersen expresses delight over South Africa's greater willingness to allow their spin bowlers to be more than just run-savers
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo