September 25, 2016
Start time 1000 local (0800 GMT)
As cricket ventures towards expansion, these are the kinds of games it needs. In the larger context, there may not be any good reason for Ireland to visit South Africa for two one-off ODIs but, as an isolated event, to play the No. 1 and No. 4 ranked sides in the format will be a good, albeit rare, experience for the Associate side.
Ireland have played against each of Australia and South Africa only four times before and have not won a match. They have not been to South Africa since Eoin Morgan was still in their side, seven years ago for qualifiers of the 2011 World Cup. Then, too, they played in Benoni. William Porterfield and the O'Brien brothers remain from that trip while the rest will all be first-timers in the country, trying to get Ireland back to the consistency they had a few years ago. Recent results have seen a dip in Ireland's form; they are now ranked 12th in ODIs, below Afghanistan and Zimbabwe. They don't have many opportunities to climb, but this will be one.
For South Africa, the match marks the real start of a season that began with two winter Tests against New Zealand last month. Their packed home season includes 28 matches across formats until March next year. Limited-overs cricket will likely remain a low priority as they chase Test redemption, but with the Champions Trophy less than nine months away, they will want to begin planning, which for them usually also means climbing the rankings. Victory against Ireland won't do much for that cause but it will set them up for the five-match series against Australia that follows. A series win for South Africa in that contest will see them rise to No. 2.
Perhaps, more importantly, the focus will be on how South Africa will enter a new era marked by transformation targets which stipulate that they field a minimum average of six players of colour, including two black Africans, over the course of a season. Essentially that means that at the end of the summer, an audit will be done of every match played to check that the target has been met. Administrators have already said that the fact that the calculation will be done as an average will allow the selectors flexibility, which throws up the possibility of loading teams with players of colour in seemingly meaningless matches, so that there are fewer constraints in selection for bigger games. In this ODI, as many as four black Africans may take the field for South Africa.
This will also be the first match in which the new DRS laws will be applied.
South Africa LWLWL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Temba Bavuma has only opened the batting twice in List A cricket - once in 2010 and more recently in February for Lions against Knights - but it is a role he may have to get accustomed to. Russell Domingo believes Bavuma could become a long-term opener, given his tight technique and ability to build an innings, and has hinted that Bavuma will be asked to bat in that position at franchise level this season.
Kevin O'Brien will be the man South Africa want to stop, not just because of his reputation. O'Brien was one of only two players to score more than 25 the last time South Africa and Ireland met. The other one, Andy Balbirnie, is not in this squad. O'Brien also took the all-important wicket of Faf du Plessis, who will captain South Africa in this match.
All three of South Africa's new caps could make their debuts in a new-look XI that is without AB de Villiers (injured), Hashim Amla (awaiting the birth of his third child), Dale Steyn (rested) and Imran Tahir (rested). Bavuma will probably open the batting with Quinton de Kock, and David Miller will return after being left out of the triangular tournament in the Caribbean. Dwaine Pretorius, Andile Phehlukwayo and Wayne Parnell will form a trio of allrounders. Aaron Phangiso is the only specialist spinner in the side.
South Africa (possible): 1 Quinton de Kock (wk), 2 Temba Bavuma, 3 Faf du Plessis (capt), 4 JP Duminy, 5 David Miller, 6 Farhaan Behardien, 7 Wayne Parnell, 8 Dwaine Pretorius, 9 Andile Phehlukwayo, 10 Kagiso Rabada, 11 Aaron Phangiso
Neither Ed Joyce nor Boyd Rankin have traveled with the Ireland squad for these matches which, in the words of Adrian Birrell, South Africa's assistant coach who used to be in charge of Ireland, robs them of their best batsman and best bowler. Sean Terry will fill in for Joyce while Ireland will have to decide if Tim Murtagh, who will arrive straight from playing in the county season finale for Middlesex against Yorkshire, should be thrown into the mix immediately or given an extra day's rest.
Ireland (possible): 1 William Porterfield, 2 Sean Terry, 3 Niall O'Brien, 4 Gary Wilson, 5 Kevin O'Brien, 6 Paul Stirling, 7 Stuart Poynter (wk), 8 Andy McBrine, 9 George Dockerell , 10 Barry McCarthy/Tim Murtagh, 11 Peter Chase
Pitch and conditions
From an ODI total of 399 by South Africa against Zimbabwe in 2010 to scores of 91 and 104 by Netherlands and Scotland respectively, Willowmoore Park's pitch is capable of anything. In what is still early season, it is likely to be slow and low and perhaps take some turn, favouring a more old-fashioned style of play. While the surface readies for summer, the weather is already there. A beautiful day is expected with temperatures hitting 28 degrees and clear skies.
Stats and trivia
- South Africa have played four ODIs against Ireland - three at World Cups - and have won all of them. They have never played Ireland at home.
- Willowmoore Park has not hosted an international match since 2013, when South Africa played Pakistan.
- Niall O'Brien needs 36 runs to become the fourth Irish player, and second in his family, to reach 2000 ODI runs.
"They are a team that cannot be taken lightly. Every now and again, they create a huge upset. I wouldn't look at their recent losses independently. I'd look at them in their last five years and they've had some big wins."
South Africa's assistant coach Adrian Birrell, who was in charge of Ireland in the past, expects a fight from the Associate nation
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent