Morkel and Duminy in doubt for final
Saturday, September 6, 2014
Start time 0930 local (0730GMT)
The triangular series in Zimbabwe was always expected come down to this: a final between Australia and South Africa. Zimbabwe's outside chance of acquiring the desired set of results to make the final only existed when they upset Australia, but it was immediately burnt out by South Africa. AB de Villiers' men may well be considered favourites, but they will be wary of the fact that their only defeat in this series came against the team they will play in the final.
South Africa lost on Tuesday in a manner they have so often done before - chasing and stumbling. They had patched the holes by Thursday against Zimbabwe, but may find themselves without one of the men who added the muscle. JP Duminy's injury could create softness in the line-up again, because Rilee Rossouw is still new to international cricket and David Miller is battling for form.
Australia know all about South Africa's marshmallow middle, having roasted it many times before. They will look to exploit that as well as South Africa's absence of a death-bowling plan. Australia, however, have areas of their own game to look at. Their batsmen have appeared vulnerable, particularly when the surface lacks pace, and their dependence on their main bowlers was obvious in their two losses.
Where there are areas of concern, there are also opportunities and both teams have players looking to cash in. South Africa's openers and pace pack have gone quiet and may be clearing their throats. If they use any reserves, they will know a big performance against Australia could go a long way towards securing a World Cup spot.
Australia's line-up also has candidates with points to prove. Phillip Hughes may want to do more after scoring successive double-centuries recently for Australia A. Those knocks earned Hughes a recall to ODIs, but while promising, he has not been particularly explosive. Mitchell Starc, who has already had much success in the series, could firm-up his place in the XI and Steven Smith will want to live up to Michael Clarke's lofty praise.
But at the end of it, the individuals' aims will be forced into the wings and the team goals will take center stage. This trophy is not about preparing for South Africa's tour to Australia later this year, or the World Cup. Few teams use one bilateral series to get ready for another, and the conditions in Harare are completely different to the ones in Australia and New Zealand. This trophy is all about bragging rights, and who does not want that?
(last five completed games most recent first)
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In the spotlight
Apart from breaking Ryan McLaren's arm, Mitchell Johnson has not proved as destructive as usual. He has taken just three wickets in the tournament so far, and though two of them were against South Africa, sluggish surfaces have blunted his poisoned tip. On a fresh pitch with more life and with a trophy to play for, he will be a different prospect and that's just what South Africa will be bracing for in the final.
There is little that can be done to stop Faf du Plessis when he is the mood to hang around, and Australia have learnt that across different formats. With three centuries in the tournament - which are also the first three of his ODI career - du Plessis is in the form of his life. He has done everything from anchor to lead final assaults, and will want nothing more than to end the series as a champion.
The XI that beat South Africa four days before the final would seem the obvious choice for Australia, unless Kane Richardson does not recover from a side soreness in time. A final call on him will be taken in the morning and if he is ruled out, James Faulkner will replace him.
Australia: (likely) 1 Aaron Finch, 2 Phillip Hughes, 3 Steven Smith, 4 George Bailey (capt), 5 Glenn Maxwell, 6 Mitchell Marsh 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Kane Richardson/James Faulkner, 11 Nathan Lyon
Morne Morkel and Duminy will undergo late fitness tests to determine their availability. Morkel has a rotator cuff tear, while Duminy has a knee niggle. Should neither play, Kyle Abbott and Rilee Rossouw will be included in the XI. If both are fit, South Africa will have to decide between Rossouw as an extra batsman, or whether they want two spinners, in which case Wayne Parnell will play in the allrounder's position.
South Africa: (likely) 1 Hashim Amla, 2 Quinton de Kock (wk), 3 Faf du Plessis, 4 AB de Villiers (capt), 5 JP Duminy/Rilee Rossouw, 6 David Miller, 7 Wayne Parnell, 8 Dale Steyn, 9 Morne Morkel/Kyle Abbott, 10 Aaron Phangiso, 11 Imran Tahir
Pitch and conditions
Instead of recycling one of the surfaces already used in the six matches of this series, the groundsmen have prepared a completely new strip in the middle of the square. They expect it to have more bounce and carry than has been on offer thus far, which will come as a relief to both sides whose pace packs may finally be able to come into play. Cooler weather has taken root in Harare and there is a 40% chance of a drizzle under cloudy skies.
Stats and trivia
"They obviously fielded a bit of a different side yesterday, going in with just the five bowlers, which I'd be surprised if they did against us. I think they'll have to pick another bowler, which hopefully will leave their batting a little thin, if we can get a couple of early wickets and try and get into the middle to late order."
Australia captain George Bailey
"It's a great test for us. We lost to them in the last game so we'd like to fix things. It's a great opportunity to go one-up on them before we go into that all-important series before the World Cup in Australia."
South Africa captain AB de Villiers
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent