May 24, 2017
Start time 2pm local (1300 GMT)
England's international season got underway almost three weeks ago, with two low-key victories over Ireland (though the fixtures were significant in themselves); but it is the arrival of South Africa for a three-match series to serve as an amuse bouche for the Champions Trophy that will raise the intensity. English eyes are beginning to focus on their desired white-ball prize.
In the absence of any May Test matches, and with a cohort of English players making their IPL debuts, attention has been somewhat dissipated. The return of Ben Stokes - freshly garlanded as the IPL's MVP - Chris Woakes and Jos Buttler ought to rev things up ahead of England's attempt to finally win a global 50-over trophy. South Africa, too, bring a truckload of stardust as the ICC's current No. 1 ODI team.
Eoin Morgan's side are down at No. 5 but that hasn't prevented them being grouped among the tournament favourites - home advantage and their new-found batting élan providing reasonable justification for such optimism. They have won six ODIs in a row, mostly without fielding what might be considered their best XI, and the addition of three players flushed with IPL success won't do morale any harm at all. Bench strength has been a feature of England's success over the last couple of years but Morgan will now want to bring everything together for the Champions Trophy tilt.
There is a reason that South Africa are rated the best side in the world, of course. They recently equalled their national record by winning 12 consecutive ODIs and AB de Villiers will have good memories of his team coming from 2-0 down to beat England 3-2 at the start of 2016. They have won six bilateral series in a row, including 5-0 whitewashes of Australia and Sri Lanka, and are keen on exorcising their own demons in global white-ball competition. To say they will prove a stiffer challenge than Ireland and West Indies - England's last two opponents - is an understatement.
De Villiers sat out South Africa's two warm-up victories but is fit to play. Despite a disappointing and injury-disrupted IPL, he remains the No. 1 ODI batsman, while in Imran Tahir, South Africa have the top-ranked bowler, too. The additional presence of Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis and Kagiso Rabada gives a formidable heft to their likely starting XI.
So there is plenty of scope for this Champions Trophy starter to become a mini-banquet. Runs, certainly, should flow. Of the teams to post 350-plus scores since the last World Cup, none have done it more times than England (eight) and South Africa (six). England's fearless cricket in that time has brought them much acclaim - but they could still do with a really big scalp, having lost close series against India, South Africa and Australia.
Whatever happens in Leeds, Southampton and north London over the next few days, the silverware both teams are most interested in will be contested at The Oval on June 18. England have finally started giving white-ball cricket its dues and the summer is about to get serious.
England WWWWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
South Africa WLWLW
In the spotlight
In most circumstances, it is best not to take your eye off Ben Stokes, but his triumphant return from a maiden IPL replete with runs, wickets and catches, means he is unarguably the main draw in an England side brimming with brio and eager to please their public. Breaking India is cricket's holy grail and, having been broken by Carlos Brathwaite in Kolkata a year ago, Stokes has spent the last six weeks proving that a $2.16m price tag was not too heavy for him. In his absence, Rising Pune Supergiant were beaten in the IPL final, so he could not show the same, ahem, naked enthusiasm as Buttler, whose Mumbai Indians team-mates lifted the trophy, but you can bank on Stokes putting the adulation to one side and focusing on attuning himself to 50-over cricket again as a key cog in England's Champions Trophy machine.
De Villiers' form will certainly be of interest, while de Kock is returning from a finger injury that kept him out of the IPL, but both will benefit from a blockbusting batting order to help share the load. The key concern for South Africa is likely to be the balance of their seam attack. Morne Morkel has not played an ODI since June 2016 but got through the two warm-up matches unscathed and his experience could prove vital alongside Rabada and Chris Morris, who has stepped up as a new-ball option after Kyle Abbott's decision to take the Kolpak route to England rather than continue his international career. South Africa have a glut of seam-bowling allrounders in their squad but ideally need each to have a clear idea of their role going into the Champions Trophy.
The return of Stokes, Buttler and Woakes will mean changes to the team that beat Ireland comprehensively at Bristol and Lord's earlier this month. Jonny Bairstow will feel most hard done by if he is edged out again, as expected, with Stokes coming back into the top six and Buttler taking the wicketkeeping gloves off Sam Billings. The extra bowling option could mean England revert to fielding both Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid, although David Willey and Liam Plunkett - the likeliest candidates to make way - have strong claims to play on their home ground.
England: (probable) 1 Jason Roy, 2 Alex Hales, 3 Joe Root, 4 Eoin Morgan (capt), 5 Ben Stokes, 6 Jos Buttler, 7 Moeen Ali/Adil Rashid, 8 Chris Woakes, 9 David Willey, 10 Liam Plunkett, 11 Mark Wood
De Villiers' availability is likely to mean Farhaan Behardien drops out, having featured unobtrusively against Sussex and Northamptonshire. South Africa's one-day side is fairly settled but they will probably need to pick one from Andile Phehlukwayo, Wayne Parnell and Dwaine Pretorius to complete the bowling.
South Africa: (probable) 1 Quinton de Kock (wk), 2 Hashim Amla, 3 Faf du Plessis, 4 AB de Villiers (capt), 5 JP Duminy, 6 David Miller, 7 Andile Phehlukwayo/Wayne Parnell, 8 Chris Morris, 9 Kagiso Rabada, 10 Morne Morkel, 11 Imran Tahir
Pitch and conditions
The recently completed Royal London Cup group stage saw runs aplenty in Headingley's surfaces, with Yorkshire comfortably chasing down 336 against Durham, fuelled by 174 from Bairstow, and then amassing 349 for 7 in another batsmen's beano against Derbyshire. The ground traditionally offers something for seamers, however, particularly if a few clouds interrupt the forecast sunshine; last year's ODI with Pakistan was a nip-and-tuck affair in which England recovered from 72 for 4 chasing 248 to win by four wickets.
Stats and trivia
This will be the first international match at Headingley since the ground's future was secured by an agreement with Leeds City Council to fund a new Football Stand.
South Africa have lost all three of their one-day internationals in Leeds, including a Super Six defeat to Australia that contributed to knocking them out of the 1999 World Cup.
Morgan needs 18 runs to overtake Alec Stewart and become England's third-highest run-scorer in ODIs.
Amla is 120 runs shy of 7000 in ODIs. He has 13 innings in which to get there ahead of Virat Kohli and continue his record of being fastest to 2000, 3000, 4000, 5000 and 6000.
"I remember watching the 2015 World Cup thinking they were really low and hit rock bottom. The way they came back from that earned a lot of respect around the world. They must be one of the favourites for the Champions Trophy."
AB de Villiers recognises the distance that England have travelled
"It's a huge benefit having three match-winners come back into the team, having watched them contribute so much to the IPL."
Eoin Morgan on England's returning trio