Fun gets serious ahead of World T20
Friday, February 19
Start time 6pm local (1600 GMT)
As the days of the southern summer get shorter, so do the matches on England's tour of South Africa. Cricket's shortest format is also its most frivolous but there is a serious undertaking in these final two T20s, which serve as a prelude to next month's World T20 in India.
South Africa actually have five matches in which to fine tune, with Australia arriving for three more T20s in early March, and England cannot yet begin to think of winding down the tour, even though they will be back in a chilly, stormy UK next week. Their limited-overs momentum has been impressive since last year's World Cup and their first big test is just couple of continental transits away.
England's turbo-boosted ODI strategy is built on T20 concepts of ball-striking and they will deploy a largely similar squad; Stuart Broad, James Taylor and Jonny Bairstow have headed home, while James Vince, Sam Billings and Liam Plunkett come in. They are unbeaten in six games, dating almost back to the previous World T20 (when they exited the tournament on the back of defeat to Netherlands) and warmed up with a comfortable win over South Africa A on Wednesday.
South Africa will deploy their third captain since England touched down in December, Faf du Plessis taking up his regular T20 post. Du Plessis has seen his team perform well in the format over the last year, too, and they will be looking to complete South Africa's comeback after defeat in the Tests and victory from 2-0 down in the ODIs - as well as set down a marker for when the teams meet again on March 18 in Mumbai.
(last five completed matches, most recent first)
South Africa: WWLWW
In the spotlight
The tour began with concerns about his international workload but, after four Tests and five ODIs, AB de Villiers is still standing. He will move up the order for the T20s and, if Hashim Amla is not picked to be his opening partner, could be the only South African to play every game against England. De Villiers' T20 international ranking is a lowly 35th and it is surely time for a player who inspires devotion at the IPL to spearhead his country's fortunes in the format.
England's star batsman across all formats, Joe Root, is also looking to define himself in T20s. He has only played 35 T20 innings in his career to date and although his 10 international knocks have yielded an average of 37.87 and a strike rate of 132.31, the imperative to launch boundaries at a moment's notice does not play to his strengths. Work on power hitting was in evidence during his back-to-back ODI tons, however, and his nimble strokeplay still has a role at the top of the order.
South Africa seem set on using de Villiers in the opening role and with Quinton de Kock's recall imminent, Amla could miss out. David Miller is likely to be back after sitting out the ODIs which may mean no space for Rilee Rossouw. Both allrounders, David Wiese and Chris Morris, should play to form part of a strong pace pack while Imran Tahir could be the sole spinner.
South Africa (possible) 1 AB de Villiers, 2 Quinton de Kock (wk), 3 Faf du Plessis, 4 JP Duminy, 5 Farhaan Behardien, 6 David Miller, 7 David Wiese, 8 Chris Morris, 9 Kagiso Rabada, 10 Kyle Abbott, 11 Imran Tahir
Eoin Morgan has said England will play their strongest team in preparation for the World T20, so it looks as if James Vince - Man of the Series against Pakistan last time out - will have to make way. Vince, Sam Billings and Chris Woakes played the warm-up match in Paarl but Root, Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali are set to return after a brief rest following full involvement in the Tests and ODIs. England skipped practice on Thursday in an attempt to stay fresh towards the end of a long tour.
England (possible) 1 Jason Roy, 2 Alex Hales, 3 Joe Root, 4 Eoin Morgan (capt), 5 Ben Stokes, 6 Jos Buttler (wk), 7 Moeen Ali, 8 Chris Jordan, 9 Adil Rashid, 10 David Willey, 11 Reece Topley
Pitch and conditions
The pitch is the same one that was used for Sunday's ODI, with the difference being that it will be used under lights this time. Du Plessis expects that it could crack up a bit. The bad news is that rain is in the air, with a 50% chance of showers after 5pm.
Stats and trivia
- South Africa won the last T20 meeting between the two sides, in Chittagong during the 2014 World T20.
- Their first encounter came at the first World T20, in 2007, which ended in a 19-run victory for South Africa. De Villiers and JP Duminy are likely to be the only survivors from that game in Cape Town.
- England's six-match winning streak is two shy of the record in T20 internationals - held by England.
"The biggest thing is the World Cup so everything we do is geared around that. If we lose 2-0, it's not great for preparation but it's about making sure we tick the boxes. It's about gradually stepping up."
Faf du Plessis puts this series into perspective
"Nobody will be rested over the next two games. They are games we really want to win."
Eoin Morgan takes a slightly different position
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick