ODI equals seek bragging rights
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Start time 0930 local (0730 GMT)
Finally, some competition.
Do not pretend that you have not been thinking it, even though you may feel uncomfortable about how it reflects on what you think of the hosts of this series. The reality is that Zimbabwe's ability to stay in a contest, which started promisingly in the one-off Test against South Africa, has been almost non-existent in the one-dayers, and the only way this tournament was likely to grab some attention is if there was something to liven it up. Luckily, South Africa and Australia could do that just by being in the same room.
The countries are old rivals, but also good friends. They may have bones to pick with each other, but will share beverages afterwards. While there is no love lost between them, there is also a lot of mutual respect. Although they are tussling over a trophy few will even remember in months to come, the two teams will not be going easy on each other as they look to claim early bragging rights ahead of the World Cup.
Recent ODI history favours South Africa, who have won three of the last four series between these two teams. However, Australia have had the upper hand in other formats and their current ascendancy makes this contest too close to call. By next Saturday, we may have a different answer.
Since Zimbabwe's chances of appearing in the final are minimal, South Africa and Australia have two potential rehearsals before the big day.
(last five completed games, most recent first)
South Africa WWWWL
In the spotlight
Glenn Maxwell's brutal hitting has been on display against Pakistan, West Indies, India, England and Zimbabwe, but he has not had the opportunity to see if he can pull the same off against a South African ODI attack. Maxwell has shown a disregard for reputation, which South Africa are aware of. So instead of getting scared, the likes of Dale Steyn might be fired up to get under the batsman's skin.
Scores of 7, 21 and 1 in Zimbabwe over the last three weeks have left AB de Villiers flying under the radar on this trip. After being rested from the final ODI against Zimbabwe, the South Africa captain will be keen to show he is ready to lead from the front against the top-ranked team in the world. De Villiers is usually a man for the big occasion and would likely regard a match against Australia as the perfect time to up the ante.
Michael Clarke will only make an appearance at the "back-end," of the tri-series, according to George Bailey, so Mitchell Marsh could keep his spot at No.3. The Aaron Finch-Brad Haddin opening partnership worked well in the tournament opener, so Phil Hughes may still have to wait for his turn. The only debate that remains is whether Ben Cutting should get a chance or if the left-hand heavy attack will continue.
Australia: 1 Aaron Finch, 2 Brad Haddin (wk), 3 Mitchell Marsh, 4 George Bailey (capt), 5 Glenn Maxwell, 6 Steve Smith, 7 James Faulkner, 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Kane Richardson, 10 Mitchell Starc/Ben Cutting, 11 Nathan Lyon
South Africa will welcome back their premier pacemen Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, who will replace Kyle Abbott and Mthokozisi Shezi respectively. With Vernon Philander out of the series, Wayne Parnell is likely to get the nod ahead of the other reserve seamer Kyle Abbott. Hashim Amla is also expected back at the top of the order, as is the captain de Villiers. Aaron Phangiso performed well when given an opportunity in the third ODI, and he may retain his place ahead of Imran Tahir.
South Africa: 1 Hashim Amla, 2 Quinton de Kock (wk), 3 Faf du Plessis, 4 AB de Villiers (capt), 5 JP Duminy, 6 David Miller, 7 Ryan McLaren, 8 Wayne Parnell, 9 Dale Steyn, 10 Morne Morkel, 11 Imran Tahir/Aaron Phangiso
Pitch and conditions
Zimbabwe's ground staff have done their best to dehydrate the surfaces as much as possible to avoid handing any further advantage to the pace attacks the hosts might face this winter. However, since the home team is not involved in this fixture, they may turn the taps on. But even if they don't, Harare's surface has traditionally always had something in it for the bowlers early on. There may be some sparks flying as the two old frenemies kick off their contest, but there should also be plenty of runs to be scored in the summer sunshine.
Stats and trivia
"Any time that we can perform really well without him in the team I think it bodes well because we know how strong we're going to be when he does get right and he comes back in."
Australia's stand-in captain George Bailey says it's important the team does not rely too heavily on Michael Clarke
"This is the pinnacle of cricket, you want to play against the best in the world. Australia are number one in the world and play a good brand of cricket but they also haven't played much in the last few months. We probably do have the advantage in terms of match practice."
Although Australia did not look like a team who had spent six months with their feet up, JP Duminy still thinks South Africa have an edge
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent