Pakistan came to South Africa and lost the Test series, as they were fully expected to. With South Africa nine rating points ahead in the ODI standings and Pakistan coming off a dismal year in the 50-over format, the hosts' series 3-2 victory didn't come close to a surprise result either. It is now that the competition moves to what should, on paper, be Pakistan's forte.
Shoaib Malik's men are ranked first in the game's shortest format while Faf du Plessis's side are a distant fifth. There are 24 rating points between the two sides, with Pakistan by far the best T20 side in the world since the most recent World Cup, having triumphed in 29 of 33 games they have played. Their T20 depth is impressive, while at the same time the core squad is as settled as they could hope for. With 11 series win on the bounce, Mickey Arthur will feel he can walk away from his country of birth with at least one trophy.
But let's pull ourselves back. It isn't Malik's team that put up these records. The man who has led the side dizzying heights in the format, Sarfraz Ahmed, is a notable absentee through this T20 series. It is under his stewardship that Pakistan's fortunes changed, with the conniving mindset he possesses so wonderfully at home in the format. Malik might have the potion for success here, but in the absence of the potion master, there are no guarantees.
South Africa's T20 form of late hasn't been nearly as impressive, nor is it clear they set as much store by international T20 cricket at present. They have won 9 out of 16 T20Is since the last World Cup, though four of them have come against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe at home. With the ODI World Cup looming, it is likely they will view this series as yet another opportunity to look at new players. It is what they've done in several T20s over the past two years, most notably against Sri Lanka, New Zealand and Zimbabwe.
Four players yet to play in T20Is are part of the South African squad, with Lutho Sipamla likely to debut and Beuran Hendricks also likely to feature in Cape Town tomorrow. Another exciting player South Africa have back is Chris Morris, the type of allrounder they have badly needed at number seven to bring balance to their eleven. Should his return from injury be successful, the Proteas will wish to play him in all three formats in the near future.
South Africa (last five completed matches, most recent first) WWWLL
In the spotlight
Still only 20, Lutho Sipamla
has generated excitement among discerning cricket fans. He doesn't quite possess the express pace of Kagiso Rabada, but consistent performances for the Spartans in the Mzansi Super League last month brought him wider attention. Aside from that, 50 wickets for Eastern Province in first-class competitions have helped hone his skills in his early years. He might be from Port Elizabeth, but tomorrow in South Africa's more famous coastal city of Cape Town, there will be many who take as much interest in Sipamla's performance as they would in the overall result.
Another, 20-year-old, Shadab Khan
, is on the opposite spectrum as far as international experience goes. Pakistan's leading limited-overs legspinner is over five months younger than Sipamla, but has played 68 international matches. For a bowler who has seen success come seemingly so easily, he did endure a somewhat torrid last few ODIs. Even n his most favoured format, Shadab has, since July 2018, not been quite as effective as he was previously. His economy rate in particular suffered, rising to 7.2 against a career rate of 6.6, with his average increasing to 20.46 (career average 17.16). It could, of course, be a temporary blip that was due at some point, but with the PSL approaching, these three games are the perfect time to allay any fears.
South Africa's lineup is tough to predict, given the sheer number of new faces drafted in, many of whom they will wish to play over the next three games. Lutho Sipamla seems nailed on to debut, while Gihahn Cloete wouldn't be a surprise starter either.
South Africa (possible): 1 Quinton de Kock (wk), 2 Gihahn Cloete, 3 Rassie van der Dussen, 4 Faf du Plessis (capt.), 5 David Miller, 6 Reeza Hendricks, 7 Wiaan Mulder, 8 Chris Morris/Junior Dala 9 Lutho Sipamla, 10 Beuran Hendricks, 11 Tabraiz Shamsi
The bowling combination is the big question mark for Pakistan, but Imad Wasim's contributions with the bat in the ODIs should see him get the nod. That might squeeze out Hussain Talat. Shaheen Afridi, having played the last four ODIs, may be rested.
Pakistan (possible): 1 Babar Azam, 2 Fakhar Zaman 3 Mohammad Hafeez, 4 Sahibzada Farhan, 5 Shoaib Malik (capt.) 6 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 7 Shadab Khan 8 Imad Wasim, 9 Mohammad Amir/Faheem Ashraf, 10 Usman Shinwari, 11 Hasan Ali
Pitch and conditions
Newlands has seen big scores over the past few T20Is with a number of them chased down. What a particular team decides to do upon winning the toss may rest more on their individual strengths, with weather unlikely to play spoilsport.
Stats and trivia
- The first T20I Newlands hosted came in the World T20 in 2007, where Zimbabwe famously beat Australia
- The only time Pakistan have faced South Africa at Newlands was also the last game between the sides, with the visitors edging it by six runs. Mohammad Hafeez, who was Man of the Match that day, is the only Pakistan player from that side in the squad for the current team
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000