Friday August 22, 2008
Start time 2.30pm (13.30GMT)
Chastened by a 2-1 defeat in the Test series, England have their chance for redemption with the first of five one-dayers against South Africa, beginning at Headingley on Friday. Though much of the focus will be on Kevin Pietersen and how he leads his one-day side, perhaps the most interesting sub-plots of the series will be the return of Steve Harmison – who has come out of ODI retirement – and the opening partnership between Ian Bell and Matt Prior, returning to international cricket after 12 months. Their relationship at the top of the order will be crucial if England are to compete on level terms with South Africa, the No.2 ODI side in the world, who bristle with aggression (they welcome back Herschelle Gibbs) and nous (JP Duminy). With Paul Collingwood still absent following his dubious tactics in the one-day series against New Zealand earlier in the summer, and Ryan Sidebottom again injured, England have it all to do. However, with Harmison and Andrew Flintoff in the bowling attack, alongside James Anderson, they do have the fire power to cause some problems.
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Watch out for
Herschelle Gibbs No longer favoured by South Africa as a Test opener, Gibbs comes into the series fresh and firing. A brisk 81 helped South Africa beat England Lions last week, and he offers an explosive, dynamic start to their innings. By his own standards he struggled to make an impact against Bangladesh earlier in the year, but nevertheless has four hundreds in his last fifteen matches. England can only dream of such riches. Opening the innings with his captain, Graeme Smith, will make for a thrilling denouement to the international summer.
Matt Prior Another series, another keeper for England, and this time they’ve gone back to the tried-and-failed Prior. Dropped after the Test series against India, headlines such as “Prior the buffoon should grow up” hurt his pride, but he has responded in the most sensible manner possible: scoring runs and taking catches. In the Championship alone, he has 841 runs at 56.06. It’s another opportunity for him with Tim Ambrose and Phil Mustard both failing to impress in one-day cricket and, you sense, it is one he is desperate to grab: this time, with both hands.
England are still without Collingwood, who is in the middle of serving a four-match ban following the one-day series against New Zealand, which alters their middle-order somewhat. Samit Patel made his debut in the drizzly encounter against Scotland this week, but it seems likely that England will opt for Graeme Swann and Luke Wright in their middle and lower-order. Again, Sidebottom has failed a fitness test meaning Tim Bresnan might another game or Harmison could be thrown straight back in. Owais Shah – who was “wasted” at No.6, according to Pietersen – will bat at No.3, as England ring the changes and opt for Bell and Prior as their latest opening combination.
England (possible) Ian Bell, Matt Prior (wk), Owais Shah, Kevin Pietersen (capt), Andrew Flintoff, Ravi Bopara, Luke Wright, Graeme Swann, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, James Anderson
South Africa have injury concerns of their own, too. Albie Morkel (shoulder) has been ruled out, while his brother, Morne, is trying to shrug off a sidestrain. Meanwhile, Smith warmed up for the series with a neat 50 against England Lions, and leads a strong batting line-up with Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers providing middle-order power, but he too has an elbow problem. In addition, JP Duminy acts as a dynamic strokeplayer at No.5, along with his useful spinners. Talking of which, Johan Botha is South Africa’s main spinning option, having remodelled his action after he was reported by umpires in Australia during South Africa’s 2006.
South Africa (probable) Graeme Smith (capt), Herschelle Gibbs, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Mark Boucher (wk), Vernon Philander, Johan Botha, Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn, Andre Nel.
Umpires: Ian Gould and Simon Taufel
Pitch and conditions
After the Twenty20 washout at Chester-le-Street there remains a concern that Headingley, too, may not be ready in time for Friday. Heavy showers were forecast for Thursday, and that trend was to continue on Friday too, making the toss all the more important. A fired-up Dale Steyn, who missed the last two matches of South Africa’s Test series win, could be an exhilarating prospect on a damp and seaming Leeds pitch.
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