England go into each game with a considerable advantage before a ball is even bowled, and it’s something that the Proteas seem to ignore. The visitors have not just one accomplished all-rounder, but two, in Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali. The stats explain the difference. The pair have bowled 30 overs between them, conceding 169 runs at 33.8 per wicket. JP Duminy and Farhaan Behardien, who comprise South Africa’s ‘fifth bowler’, have conceded a disturbing 155 runs in 20 overs, with just one wicket to show for it. Chris Morris was expensive in the first ODI, but then again so was everyone else. Albie Morkel’s untimely injury means he has been denied another shot at ODI cricket, so they should take a gamble, if you can call it that, and put in a bowling all-rounder at No 7, someone like Morris or David Wiese, who both carried the drinks in Port Elizabeth. The big-hitting pair have 10 overs in them. It is the best possible answer to an extremely balanced England unit.
Catch them out early
England have shown that stats aren’t everything. The stats will show you that Jason Roy averages 32.75 with the bat, Alex Hales averages 29.40, even Ben Stokes only averages 20.72. In fact, Joe Root is the only one that averages above 40. But give them a bit of space, allow them to relax, and they will punish you. Roy and Hales aren’t always going to post big scores, because they offer plenty of chances early on. South Africa have to start better; they have to show more discipline with the ball. Stokes comes in at No 5, and you will notice that it’s a luxury that is exposed whenever England lose. Get three early wickets and you’re in charge of the match.
One eye on the World T20
With the T20 squad being announced on Wednesday, this match could be one last chance for a number of players to stake their claims. Perhaps the selectors have already made their minds up, but this ODI series is certainly being used as a chance for the players to find some form ahead of the tournament. With the middle order struggling, they might be tempted to find some room for David Miller, who appears to have fallen behind Rilee Rossouw in the pecking order. As mentioned above, one of Morris or Wiese should be playing, but they should be backed at No 7, in an all-rounder role. Finding some form in this position will go a long way towards settling the nerves ahead of the showpiece.
Amla under pressure?
Hashim Amla has now scored just one 50-plus score in his last 17 ODIs, which will be of huge concern to him and the team. He’s due a big knock, and his return to form in the Test arena suggests that he will eventually do something similar in the shorter formats, given the quality and record of the player. There’s no better chance to do so than on the bat-friendly tracks in the Highveld. Reece Topley bowled brilliantly to him in the second ODI, making him play every ball before one moved just enough to remove his off stump. He’s got a target on his back, but he’s too good a player not to respond.