Pakistan arrived in Johannesburg late in March 2021 for their limited overs tour of South Africa, and having won the Test and T20I series back home earlier this year, they will be full of confidence.
Captain Babar Azam has been in sparkling form over the past 18 months in all formats of the game (although had a slight dip in form earlier this year), and was the second highest run-scorer for Pakistan in their last ODI series in South Africa in 2019, with an average of 48.75, behind only Imam-ul-Haq, who was the leading run-scorer from both teams with an average of 54.20.
With Imam at the top, Pakistan will look to him to get the off to a positive start and put the pressure on the South African bowlers.
Pakistan’s batsmen are no longer afraid of the short ball and are attacking and aggressive in the shorter format. South Africa will need to have other plans to counter their attacking cricket and not just rely on the short ball.
With Shaheen Afridi, who has been in incredible form himself all over the world, they have a strike bowler who has the ability to take early wickets and put the opposition on the back foot early. Afridi also was the second leading wicket-taker on their previous tour in 2019 with 6 wickets at an incredible average of 23.16 – the best of any bowler, who played more than 2 ODIs. Shaheen has grown in experience and skill over the past three years and is a key player for Pakistan. If he has a good series, South Africa will struggle.
Pakistan have a talented group of players, including Mohammad Rizwan who has been in incredible form of late and will hope to continue this in South Africa. It is fortunate for Pakistan that they had been playing a lot of cricket recently with the Pakistan Super League before it was postponed due to the virus, and therefore shouldn’t be rusty coming into this series.
South Africa have named a large squad for the ODI series and unfortunately not everyone will get a chance to play, but it is encouraging that Sisanda Magala has been given a call-up, after continuing to perform consistently for the Lions. He can become an important player for the Proteas going forward, if he’s just given a chance and this series is a perfect opportunity to do just that.
South Africa have a good record in ODIs, having not lost an ODI series since February 2018, and they enjoyed a 3-0 whitewash over Australia in their last ODI series in February 2020, before the pandemic, with Heinrich Klaasen and Janneman Malan faring particularly well. It is therefore important to show the faith in these players and select them for this series.
This will new captain Temba Bavuma’s first series in charge of the Proteas. However, having been captain of the Lions for some time, this will not be new to him. An important top order player, after Janneman and Quinton, who are both naturally attacking players, he will be looked upon to be the rock that the others can bat around, much in the same vein as the legendary Hashim Amla, and with an ODI average of 55.83, he is more than capable to accept this challenge.
Quinton de Kock had been in what could quite possibly be the worst form of his career when the Proteas last played international cricket, but now with the burden of captaincy off his shoulders, he can be free to open the innings and play his natural and destructive game, and hopefully for South Africa’s sake, that will result in him regaining his form.
Given that Cricket South Africa has allowed players participating in the IPL to leave for India after the second ODI, players like KG Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Quinton de Kock and David Miller can, and should definitely play in the first ODI.
Once these players leave for the IPL, this opens it up to give other players a chance, like Kyle Verreynne and Aiden Markram, who are young and smart and have bright futures ahead of them with the Proteas. With the next 50 over World Cup in two and half years, the Proteas need to give young players opportunities now in international cricket, to get experience of diffident playing conditions and situations.
Rassie van der Dussen provides stability in the middle order, and he’s been a proven performer for the Proteas. South Africa need players in the middle that can be responsible, but effective, and Rassie, with an outstanding ODI average of 70.70, ticks those boxes.
Andile Phehlukwayo is undoubtedly talented but his form of late has been questionable. He needs time in domestic cricket to get that form back. He is very important to South Africa’s fortunes in the future, and they need him at his best.
Given that Centurion, the venue for the first ODI is typically known to be more suited to fast bowling, one spinner should be sufficient.
Playing five specialized bowlers could be risky. However, all the bowlers selected have shown good form lately in domestic cricket. Therefore, I am fully confident they will put in a solid performance.
With South Africa ranked 5th and Pakistan 6th in the ICC team ODI rankings, this is going to be an interesting series. Who will come out on top? Time will tell.
The first ODI is a day game that takes place on Good Friday, April 2nd at 10am SA time