Friday, February 12, 2016
Start time 1330 local (1130 GMT)
Well, that's put the cat among the pigeons. Just when it seemed that England's 50-over fledglings were set to spread their wings and secure a hugely impressive second overseas series victory of the winter, they were clawed back to earth by a performance that AB de Villiers, South Africa's captain, rightly described as "hungry". With local knowledge spilling out of a team containing six Titans players, South Africa hunted down a stiff target of 319 with disdain, thanks almost entirely to a record-breaking opening stand of 239 between Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla.
So, at 2-1 up with two to play, England know they are suddenly in a contest - and life is unlikely to get much easier in the equally stratospheric conditions at the Wanderers. The Bullring comes into his own for floodlit one-day games, and South Africa's record at the venue is hugely impressive - 19 victories in 27 completed matches including, ten years ago next month, the jewel in the crown: their astonishing chase of 435 against Australia.
On the evidence of the series so far, there could be similar scoring feats in prospect on Friday. England's total of 399 at Bloemfontein might have been challenged more closely had the weather not intervened in the first match, while their apparently hefty 318 for 8 at Centurion proved to be at least fifty runs shy of par. With power-hitters on both teams, including some - such as AB de Villiers and Jason Roy who haven't entirely got going as yet - there is unlikely to be much let-up in the thin, six-friendly, air of the Highveld.
South Africa's fightback at Centurion was made possible, in part, by the improved balance of their team, with the inclusion of the allrounder David Wiese at the expense of Rilee Rossouw allowing de Villiers to use the part-time seamers of Farhaan Behardien more sparingly. But England in return struggled to use their own options, with Chris Jordan's erratic seamers proving particularly expensive once again. One thing is clear: it has not so far been a series for the bowlers, so whichever team's attack holds its nerve the best when the fur begins to fly is liable to claim the spoils.
(last five completed matches, most recent first)
South Africa: WLLWL
In the spotlight
England have one imperative above all others if they want to sew up the series without having to win a decider at Cape Town on Sunday. Stop de Kock. Quinton de Kock's preposterous form has harvested three centuries in his last four innings, including a maiden Test hundred at Centurion last month. In one-day cricket, however, he is in overdrive. His match-smashing 135 on Tuesday was his tenth in 55 innings . No ODI player in history has ever reached that milestone so quickly, or so young either - at 23 years and 54 days, he pipped Virat Kohli to the mark by four months. The power and purity of his strokeplay is extraordinary, and seemingly unstoppable when he gets on one of his rolls.
Adil Rashid has been quietly going about his business in the series so far, and if his figures to date, 2 for 130 in 26 overs, don't look like an awful lot to write home about, then they are perhaps best expressed alongside those of his legspinning counterpart in South Africa's ranks, Imran Tahir - 2 for 193 in 28. Following coolly on from his breakthrough stint with Adelaide Strikers in the BBL, Rashid has applied a tourniquet to his previously leaky economy rate, and South Africa's willingness to see off his spells rather than take the long handle to them is a testament to his control and variety. He's got the confidence to be a trump card in the closing stages of this series.
South Africa have given no clear indication as to whether they will make changes to their XI but the balance provided by Wiese served its purpose at Centurion. A continuation of that policy would mean no room, once again, for the specialist slugger, David Miller, although the million-dollar man, Chris Morris, might believe he would be worth a shout for that extra allrounder's role. Morne Morkel is due a rest and could miss out for Marchant de Lange but, since he is not playing the T20s, he may just keep going for now.
South Africa (probable) 1 Hashim Amla, 2 Quinton de Kock (wk), 3 Faf du Plessis, 4 AB de Villiers (capt), 5 JP Duminy, 6 Farhaan Behardien, 7 David Wiese, 8 Kagiso Rabada, 9 Kyle Abbott, 10 Morne Morkel, 11 Imran Tahir
England's big dilemma is the form of Chris Jordan. His value in the field was demonstrated by the stunning running catch off AB de Villiers at Port Elizabeth that could prove a pivotal moment in the series. But he has so far taken one wicket in 17.3 overs in the series, at an average of 143 and an economy rate of 8.17. The obvious replacement is also the odd man out in the squad. Stuart Broad's recall for white-ball cricket was made all the more curious when he was yesterday omitted from England's World T20 squad. However, with a series to win, and fond recent memories of Johannesburg, a recall would seem to be the pragmatic approach.
England (possible) 1 Jason Roy, 2 Alex Hales, 3 Joe Root, 4 Eoin Morgan (capt), 5 Ben Stokes, 6 Jos Buttler (wk), 7 Moeen Ali, 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Adil Rashid, 10 David Willey, 11 Reece Topley
Pitch and conditions
A typical Wanderers ODI pitch is packed with runs and consistent bounce and carry. South Africa have scored over 300 in their last four matches at the venue and won three. The pitch is off-centre for this match which means one boundary will be shorter. A fast outfield and thin air will also aid the batsmen. Thundershowers are forecast between 4pm and 6pm.
Stats and trivia
With scores of 46, 55 and 33 not out so far, Faf du Plessis has returned to form after a tough Test series and is within 90 runs of reaching 3000 in ODI cricket.
If selected, Stuart Broad will play in his first ODI since England's victory over Afghanistan at Sydney in March 2015, their last match of a dismal World Cup campaign.
At 1633m above sea level, the Wanderers Stadium is at an unusually high altitude. Scientific models have worked out that a shot that would just reach the boundary at the Wanderers (approx. 65m) would fall some four metres short at lower-altitude venues.
South Africa will take the field in pink kit as part of an annual breast cancer awareness day. That could be ominous for England. The last time de Villiers wore pink for an ODI, he slammed 149 from 44 balls against West Indies.
"It's key for us to assess conditions very early; what is working on the day. AB is fantastic in picking up the rhythm of the batsmen and where they're looking to target areas. We've done our research into exercising our skills to keep them quiet."
Kyle Abbott believes South Africa can keep England's line-up quiet.
"Stuart's played more than 100 one-dayers for England and has huge amounts of experience. If he comes in, that's just one of a few things he'll bring - that experience and knowledge of one-day cricket."
Joe Root, for one, welcomes the prospect of Stuart Broad reclaiming his berth in the one-day team.