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South Africa, Zimbabwe look to solve middle-order issues

Heinrich Klaasen works one on the leg side AFP

Big Picture

South Africa's bowlers did a sterling job in the series opener and the hosts are 1-0 up, but there are questions over their batting. In Bloemfontein's Mangaung Oval, they may have the perfect stage to set right some of their batting errors and get the middle order flowing smoothly.

An untested middle order clearly got the memo about playing aggressive cricket, but in the first ODI their application in conditions that made strokeplay dangerous went awry. Only Heinrich Klaasen seemed to have figured out just how to be positive against the extra bounce in Kimberley.

South Africa's bowling, meanwhile, appears in starkly fine fettle. Kagiso Rabada bowled a little within himself on Sunday, but was still effective, while Lungi Ngidi showed that he could be a menace even on a fairly slow pitch. Andile Phehlukwayo and Wiaan Mulder did exactly what was asked of them in backing up the new-ball pair, while Imran Tahir whizzed through his variations to clean up the tail.

Zimbabwe's batsmen will also be pleased that South Africa's attack might be defanged a little by batting-friendly conditions in Bloemfontein. The visitors do at least also have a little more experience of Bloemfontein than they had of Kimberley before the series opener.

The Mangaung Oval is one of the few grounds in South Africa where Zimbabwe have a history in all three international formats. Almost twenty years ago, this was the ground where Zimbabwe played their first Test match on South Africa soil, and more recently Zimbabwe's batsmen had left with happy memories of T20 and ODI cricket here. Eight years ago, Brendan Taylor cracked a career-best 145* here under lights. Hamilton Masakadza, Sean Williams and Elton Chigumbura were all also part of the XI in that game, and Masakadza has a particular connection to the city.

Sixteen years ago, Masakadza enrolled at the University of the Free State to study for a Bachelor of Commerce degree at their Bloemfontein campus, and must have cut a somewhat unlikely figure at his Afrikaans hostel, Vishuis. But by all accounts he enjoyed his time here, studying with the help of a cricket bursary organised by Ewie Cronje, father of Hansie, and when he returned to the city for the first time since finishing university with the national side in October 2010, he cracked 72 in a T20I against a bowling attack that included his old university team-mate, Ryan McLaren.

Zimbabwe desperately need Masakadza to rekindle some of that varsity sparkle at the top of the order. South Africa, too, need more out of their batting unit.

Form guide

South Africa WLLWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
Zimbabwe LLLLL

In the spotlight

South Africa's middle order is under more than a little pressure to perform after a lull in their last three ODIs. Reeza Hendricks has just seven runs from his last three ODI innings, while Dean Elgar and Christiaan Jonker are yet to show whether they can fill in for the injured Hashim Amla and the absent David Miller. Klaasen helped South Africa overcome a wobble against Zimbabwe in the opener, and the batting hopefuls will be desperate to impose themselves a little more second time around.

Zimbabwe have some middle-order issues of their own, but their batting malaise is a little more widespread and of particular concern is their ability to absorb pressure by turning the strike over with singles. This was particularly apparent in Kimberley, when 153 of the 205 deliveries bowled at Zimbabwe were dots. They'll have to find a way to run South Africa a little harder with quick singles.

Team news

South Africa coach Ottis Gibson spoke about giving extended opportunities to those in the starting XI ahead of this series, and it's likely that the South African think tank will want to have another look at their combination in different conditions. South Africa's bowling attack gelled very nicely in the first game, and their top six should have another chance to do the same.

South Africa (possible): 1 Dean Elgar, 2 Aiden Markram, 3 Reeza Hendricks, 4 JP Duminy (capt), 5 Heinrich Klaasen (wk), 6 Christiaan Jonker, 7 Wiaan Mulder, 8 Andile Phehlukwayo, 9 Kagiso Rabada, 10 Lungi Ngidi, 11 Imran Tahir

With Brendan Taylor keeping wicket, Zimbabwe's combinations are also likely settled for the moment. The value of playing Elton Chigumbura as an extra batsman at no. 7 was demonstrated in the first ODI, when he top-scored with 27, and with Sean Williams and Solomon Mire filling in the fifth bowler's position, the visitors have plenty of options with the ball.

Zimbabwe (possible): 1 Hamilton Masakadza (capt), 2 Solomon Mire, 3 Craig Ervine, 4 Brendan Taylor (wk), 5 Sean Williams, 6 PJ Moor/Ryan Murray, 7 Elton Chigumbura, 8 Wellington Masakadza, 9 Brandon Mavuta, 10 Kyle Jarvis, 11 Tendai Chatara

Pitch and conditions

Unless the pitch plays completely out of character, as was the case in Kimberley, there should be plenty of runs on offer. Unless there is a grass on it, the Mangaung Oval track is as flat as any in the country, with some franchise coaches even criticising the extent to which bat dominated the ball in some games last season.

Just to make things a little more comfortable for the batsmen, the weather should be temperate on the day, with plenty of sunshine and a light breeze.

Stats and trivia

  • Batsmen usually enjoy Bloemfontein. England smashed 399 for 9 at an ODI here in February 2016, and five of the six 300-plus scores at the ground have come since 2003.

  • The last time South Africa played Zimbabwe here, Amla and Colin Ingram cracked hundreds as the hosts reached 351 for 6. Zimbabwe responded through Taylor's ton, but fell well short as he was given little support.

Quotes

"I'm looking forward to going back home. It's been a long time coming, I haven't played there for a while."
Zimbabwe captain Hamilton Masakadza thinks of Bloemfontein as kind of a second home, having lived in the city as a university student.

"I am still under pressure of securing a spot in this team so, for me, every game I play in I need to do well."
Another top-scoring performance wouldn't do Heinrich Klaasen, still under pressure for his place, any harm.