South Africa begin World Cup countdown
Friday October 15, Bloemfontein
Start time 2:30pm (1230 GMT)
The Big Picture
The competitive nature of the Twenty20s in Bloemfontein and Kimberley mean that the one-day leg of Zimbabwe's tour will stoke more interest than it otherwise might have. The series is crucial for both sides - it includes three of only 13 games remaining for the South Africans before the World Cup, and Zimbabwe's only scheduled ODIs before that tournament. The home side insisted before the tour began that these games would not be treated as simple warm-ups, but while the T20s provided a useful examination of South Africa's bench strength with several senior players missing one or both of the games, the buzz around the matches is arguably more about the integrity of Zimbabwe's recent resurgence.
A particularly eye-catching part of their turnaround - Grant Flower's international comeback after a six-year hiatus - was stalled by problems with his travel documents ahead of the team's departure, and he finally ended up making the trip just in time to carry the drinks in the second Twenty20. While his addition to the batting line-up would have brought a welcome dollop of grit and experience, it was Zimbabwe's bowling that appeared out of its depth. A couple of bellicose innings from the top order helped mask the toothlessness of the Zimbabwean attack, but over the course of a full one-day international, it will be harder to paper over those cracks.
The loss of two frontline bowlers meant South Africa's attack was not quite to its usual standards, and without the ferocious pairing of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, the back-up struggled for incisiveness. The fielding was also disappointingly lacklustre in Bloemfontein, and Rusty Theron's level-headed death bowling proved the difference in nipping out Zimbabwean hopes of a last-gasp victory in Kimberley. Theron could make his ODI debut on Friday and along with Wayne Parnell and Lonwabo Tsotsobe will need to stay at the top of his game to ensure no slip-ups against the increasingly competitive tourists.
History suggests that South Africa will complete a clean-sweep ahead of what are expected to be far more challenging games against Pakistan in the heat of Abu Dhabi. But there is a mood of increasing self-belief in the Zimbabwe camp, and while South Africa surely remain firm favourites, a Zimbabwean win is not as unthinkable as it was the last time these sides met.
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Chamu Chibhabha's twin fifties were an important part of Zimbabwe's positive showing in the Twenty20s, and at Bloemfontein he broke the record for the quickest Twenty20 international fifty by a Zimbabwean, reaching the landmark off 29 balls. He clearly found conditions to his liking, and South Africa will look to get past him quickly to open up Zimbabwe's middle order when they meet again at the same venue.
Rusty Theron's nerveless final over at Kimberley proved the vital difference between the two sides and he will have a similar role to play in the fifty-over format. Theron has an enviable domestic List A record, averaging just 20.06, and will look to cement his place in the South African attack in the absence of Steyn and Morkel.
Morne Morkel's ankle injury means that Theron is a virtual certainty to make his debut. Hashim Amla also comes back into the squad while AB de Villiers returns to take up the wicketkeeping gloves, with Heino Kuhn released to play for his domestic franchise.
South Africa (possible) 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Hashim Amla, 3 Colin Ingram, 4 JP Duminy, 5 AB de Villiers (wk), 6 David Miller, 7 Johan Botha, 8 Ryan McLaren, 9 Wayne Parnell, 10 Rusty Theron 11 Lonwabo Tsotsobe
Grant Flower is likely to make his return to Zimbabwe colours in Bloemfontein, while Charles Coventry returns home and is replaced by Sean Williams.
Zimbabwe (possible) 1 Brendan Taylor, 2 Hamilton Masakadza, 3 Chamu Chibhabha, 4 Sean Williams, 5 Grant Flower, 6 Tatenda Taibu (wk), 7 Elton Chigumbura (capt), 8 Graeme Cremer, 9 Prosper Utseya, 10 Shingirai Masakadza, 11 Ed Rainsford
Stats and trivia
- Brendan Taylor, who took 1 for 16 from four overs in the second Twenty20 game, was Zimbabwe's wicketkeeper the last time these two sides met at Bloemfontein.
- South Africa have won 26 of their 29 ODIs against Zimbabwe
- During the Twenty20 series against South Africa Chamu Chibhabha made 111 runs from 73 balls
"I think we were a little bit disappointing with the ball in the two T20 games against Zimbabwe."
Back in charge after watching Johan Botha captain the Twenty20 side, Graeme Smith is calling it how he sees it
"I thought I was coming back as a batting coach and hadn't expected to be playing in the side."
Grant Flower was as surprised as everyone else with the news of his international return
Liam Brickhill is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.