Champions Trophy the focus for both teams
Match FactsMarch 10, 2013
Start time 1000 local (0800 GMT)
It is three months away but the Champions Trophy will be the main focus for both teams because this is the last competitive cricket they will play together before the tournament in England. Pakistan's emphasis may not be as great. They have held ICC silverware aloft before and are not obsessed with the same levels of pre-planning as South Africa are.
They also seem to approach isolated series as exactly that: contests that should be won not test-tubes that should be toyed with. Accordingly, their concerns are not with combinations or building but with winning and, if whispers are to be believed, unifying what is becoming a divided unit.
Misbah-ul-Haq and Mohammed Hafeez are reportedly at loggerheads, although team management denies this. Infighting in the leadership core will not be good for team morale but Pakistan do not appear to be down at all. Instead, the lure of winning another trophy is more than enough motivation, especially with the knowledge that their opposition is vulnerable.
By their own admission, South Africa's focus has not been on the shorter versions in the last year. While the Test team climbed to No.1, the ODI and Twenty20 sides were left to experiment. That phase is now over but they are far from settled as a unit.
This series is their only opportunity to change that before they embark on a quest for multi-team tournament glory. They have, at least, decided on a strategy. AB de Villiers has been installed as permanent wicket-keeper, will continue as captain and will play a role in the middle order, which is the biggest concern.
Their opening combination is experienced as are most of their bowling options but the notoriously soft middle is where the series will be won or lost. While South Africa attempt to harden it up, Pakistan will target that area and if they hit, the hosts could end the home summer without an ODI trophy in their cabinet.
Form guide(Most recent first)
South Africa: WLLWL
In the Spotlight:
Dale Steyn will not play in the first match because he is still in Los Angeles with his girlfriend and is only available from the second fixture. Morne Morkel is unlikely to feature as well because he has not fully recovered from the hamstring injury which kept him out of the third Test and the Twenty20 series. It will be Lonwabo Tsotsobe's job to lead the attack. The left-armer looks decidedly leaner and meaner than he was a few months ago and bowled with good variation, especially in his first two overs of the T20. He was once the top-ranked ODI bowler in the world and will no doubt be hankering to get back there.
Kamran Akmal went almost unnoticed in the T20, apart from the catch he fumbled and then took. With his reputation suffering its usual yo-yo from fans and a poor series against India with the bat, he will want to do something to enhance it. Kamran was the highest run-scorer for his side in the practice match against the South African Invitation XI with 47 and made a century for Pakistan A against Afghanistan last month. He has some form but can he find some consistency?
Experience returns to the South African squad, something that was obvious by its absence in the T20 series. Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla return at the top to prop up the batting line-up. Bowling could be a concern as neither Steyn nor Morkel is likely to play and Kyle Abbott could find himself in line for a third debut in as many weeks, this time for the ODI team.
The middle order will involve a tussle between incumbent Farhaan Behardien and David Miller, with indications that Behardien will be given a few more chances. Ryan McLaren will continue as the main all-rounder while Robin Peterson is likely to operate as the solitary spinner with Aaron Phangiso released to his franchise for Friday's domestic T20 game.
South Africa: (probable) 1 Graeme Smith 2 Hashim Amla 3 Colin Ingram, 4 AB de Villiers (capt & wk), 5 Faf du Plessis, 6 Farhaan Behardien/David Miller, 7 Ryan McLaren 8 Robin Peterson 9 Rory Kleinveldt, 10 Kyle Abbott, 11 Lonwabo Tsotsobe
If Pakistan go with an XI that is as close as possible to the one that beat India, they will probably play Younis Khan at No.3, leaving no place for Umar Akmal. Shahid Afridi will find a spot at No.7 with Kamran Akmal hanging on to the gloves and Junaid Khan, Umar Gul and Mohammed Irfan making up the pace trio.
Pakistan: (probable) 1 Nasir Jamshed, 2 Mohammed Hafeez, 3 Younis Khan, 4 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 5 Shoaib Malik, 6 Kamran Akmal (wk), 7 Shahid Afridi, 8 Umar Gul, 9 Saeed Ajmal 10 Junaid Khan, 11 Mohammed Irfan
Pitch and conditions:
A surface that is generally as flat as the landscape around it has been good to batsmen in the past. Since 2005, the average innings total has been 253 which includes fixtures against Zimbabwe and Kenya. It will be hard work for all concerned, with a sluggish surface promising to test temperament as it did in the fixture against Sri Lanka early last year. No rain is forecast and typical hot, dry Free State weather will welcome the teams with temperatures to settle at around 26 degrees Celsius.
Stats and Trivia:
- South Africa need to beat Pakistan 5-nil to rise to No.1 on the ODI rankings from No. 4. Pakistan lie in sixth place.
- Pakistan have achieved the most ODI series whitewashes - 17. The last time was in the 2011-12 season against Bangladesh. South Africa have blanked teams 12 times. Neither has ever achieved the feat against the other .
- South Africa are the team that have won the most times off the last ball of a match - seven. Pakistan have managed the same five times.
"It's a new series and a totally different approach. From the Pakistan side, they might have felt a psychologically a blow from the Tests but they bounced back in the T20. For us it's just a new series."
Ryan McLaren does not think either side have a mental advantage going into the ODIs.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent