South Africa target series sweep as England brace for six of the worst
Hosts boost hopes of World Cup qualification as champions face longest losing streak since 2014
Big picture: South Africa aiming for series sweep
The series has been won, but it's not quite mission accomplished for South Africa, who are a win away from getting up into the top eight of the World Cup Super League. Two clinical performances against the reigning world champions (albeit England's crown has slipped a fair bit recently) means they are sitting a little more comfortably, with a pair of home fixtures against Netherlands to come, but these are fine margins and something as small as an over-rate penalty could be the difference between securing a direct spot for India later this year or going to the qualifier in Zimbabwe.
Reports of South Africa's demise, in this format at least, have turned out to be exaggerated - they whitewashed India 3-0 at home this time last year, after all. But with Temba Bavuma producing a bravura hundred to inspire a record chase in Bloemfontein, it might even be the case that home supporters start looking forward to the visit of West Indies in a few weeks, rather than pining for the return of the SA20.
South Africa's boxfresh new T20 competition will start up again on Thursday, and there have already been hints that the likes of Quinton de Kock and Kagiso Rabada could be rested ahead of flying down to the coast for an evening contest between Durban's Super Giants and MI Cape Town. But the mood in the camp, under the temporary guidance of Shukri Conrad, certainly seems to have lifted and there is the chance to inflict a rare 3-0 reverse on Jos Buttler's side.
At least, you might peg it as rare, before a quick check confirms England lost their last ODI series, a benighted bit of scheduling post-T20 World Cup in Australia, 3-0 as well. Their record since Buttler was installed as Eoin Morgan's permanent successor last year currently reads: P11 W2 L8. Even if outwardly the mantra remains positive, and there is time aplenty to formulate plans for the World Cup defence in October-November, it's hard to think of an instance when a win was more needed since the Morgan revolution began in 2015.
Buttler seems as unflappable as his predecessor and barely needs to bother marshalling a defence. The Australia series gets a free pass, since it came days after the captain was being snapped on a Melbourne beachfront holding the T20 World Cup. Here he is without the likes of Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Liam Livingstone and Mark Wood - in part because of injury, in part because of a schedule that means England currently have full men's squads in both South Africa and New Zealand. Not to mention Ben Stokes, the king over the water whose unretirement bandwagon is already gathering pace.
He can also point to the fact that an England side with a little more consistent ODI cricket under their belts would have expected to win both games in Bloemfontein. Kimberley is mining country, the "Big Hole" one of the local tourist attractions - but England have time to dig themselves out of difficulty yet.
South Africa WWLLW (last five completed ODIs, most recent first)
In the spotlight: Aiden Markram and Moeen Ali
Since making his ODI debut in October 2017, Aiden Markram has played 45 ODIs while averaging 28.75 - the only other top-four batter to score 1000 runs in that time at a lower average is the now-retired William Porterfield. Markram's nickname is "Sauce", apparently because he goes with everything, and there were glimpses of his undoubted talent in a 43-ball 49 in the second ODI, during which he also burgled the wicket of Harry Brook. But time is running out to prove he's got the special sauce across all three formats for South Africa.
You might think that Moeen Ali scoring a dashing half-century, at better than a run a ball, isn't so noteworthy. But the fact that his belligerent effort in Bloem was his first 50-plus score in an ODI since 2017 is altogether more discombobulating. Moeen has always been a player whose individual moments of brilliance transcend his rather-more-ordinary stats - but batting and bowling averages of 23.13 (strike rate 80.32) and 59.33 since the 2019 World Cup are underwhelming even by his standards. He should be a lock for No. 6 or 7 in the team that goes to India, but a run of form in this format would be timely.
Team news: De Kock likely to miss out
De Kock hurt his hand while keeping during the second ODI and won't be considered for selection*, with Janneman Malan and Reeza Hendricks - the only two South Africa players to net on Tuesday - waiting in the wings as back-up openers. None of the frontline quicks, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje and Lungi Ngidi, bowled at training and South Africa could deploy both spinners, Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi, depending on conditions.
South Africa: (possible) 1 Janneman Malan/Reeza Hendricks, 2 Temba Bavuma (capt), Rassie van der Dussen, 4 Aiden Markram, 5 Heinrich Klaasen (wk), 6 David Miller, 7 Marco Jansen, 8 Wayne Parnell, 9 Sisanda Magala, 10 Keshav Maharaj, 11 Tabraiz Shamsi
England have Phil Salt available after illness if they want to make changes to the batting and will likely shuffle the bowling attack. Jofra Archer could make his second appearance of the series, having taken 1 for 81 on his long-awaited England comeback last week - and despite being a potential starter for MI Cape Town 24 hours later. Chris Woakes and Reece Topley both endured a pasting in the second ODI, while Olly Stone was England's best bowler but may be in line for some workload management.
England: (possible) 1 Jason Roy, 2 Phil Salt, 3 Dawid Malan, 4 Harry Brook, 5 Jos Buttler (capt & wk), 6 Moeen Ali, 7 Sam Curran, 8 Chris Woakes, 9 David Willey, 10 Adil Rashid, 11 Jofra Archer
Pitch and conditions: Kimberley set to be hot and flat
Kimberley has not hosted an ODI since 2018, when Zimbabwe managed just 117 against an attack spearheaded by Rabada and Ngidi. But a flat surface is expected for this contest and soaring temperatures plus a short boundary suggests another round of 300-plus run-scoring could be in the offing. There have been heavy showers in the lead up but the forecast is clear for Wednesday.
Stats and trivia
- The last time England lost five ODIs in a row came at home during series against Sri Lanka and India in 2014. They have not lost six on the bounce since 2009.
- South Africa are aiming for their first ODI series whitewash against England.
- England have only played one previous ODI in Kimberley - an eight-wicket win over Zimbabwe in 2000.
- Wayne Parnell needs two wickets to reach 100 in ODIs. He will be the 13th South Africa to reach the milestone.
"We're here to win, we want to win the series 3-0. It's really important to be putting the right people on the park but our squad is incredibly strong, we're always producing great cricketers in South Africa. Whoever does play I have no doubt that we're going to have a full-strength team. To be nice and clinical would be the cherry on top."
David Miller says the hosts are intent on securing a whitewash
"We haven't played our greatest cricket. We've not had the all-round performance that we want but there's some positives to take forward. Hopefully we can win the final game and finish the series on a positive note."
Olly Stone attempts to rally the troops
Olly Stone attempts to rally the troops
*February 1, 0930 GMT - This story was updated with news of de Kock's absence
Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick