If the rain stays away at Southampton, South Africa – and AB de Villiers – have a chance to become number one in the ODIs, for a short while at least. De Villiers’ form has been out of this world since he took over as skipper, and he now has a real chance to test his mettle against one of the best sides in the world. By ANT SIMS.
After a frustrating washout in Cardiff, England and South Africa are at it again – or at least they’ll try to be. The two sides are in Southampton for the second one-day international of the five-match series, but more rain is forecast, which could mean yet another frustrating day at the office for the two teams who are tussling for the number one spot in the ODI rankings. South Africa needs to win the series to go to the top, but as the weather goes in England, things aren’t looking too good.
Rain is almost certain to interrupt the match at some point, and South African skipper AB de Villiers admitted that the Cardiff washout was a disappointment.
“The previous ODI was quite frustrating,” he said.
“If anything, we are a little bit better prepared this time around. It happened so quickly after the Test series and I think both teams were a little bit in the Test mix, so it’s nice to go into the second ODI fully prepared and refreshed.”
Nevertheless, should the two sides manage to get things underway and have a game, South Africa's one-day captain De Villiers will be keen to test his mettle against the English. He's got an impressive record since taking over the reins from Graeme Smith last year, leading south Africa to six wins from eight ODIs. While many feel that the responsibility of keeping wicket and captaining a side can be detrimental to a player's form, it's been quite the opposite for De Villiers: he averages 158.33 as captain/wicketkeeper of South Africa's ODI side.
Dale Steyn wasn’t in the side for the first one-day, apparently suffering from a stiff neck. He has failed to recover from his injury in time for the clash at Southampton, meaning the Proteas will most likely persist with Ryan McLaren, Wayne Parnell, Morne Morkel and number-one ranked ODI bowler Lonwabo Tsotsobe.
The English, meanwhile, will hope that Ian Bell can pick things up where he left off in Cardiff – hitting a brisk 26 off 18 – a stint at the crease which included carting Morkel for two sixes in one over. With the absence of Kevin Pietersen still dominating the headlines (surprise!) captain Alastair Cook and company will be hoping a solid performance on the field will put to bed the persisting nagging that Team England simply cannot cope without the firecracker batsman.
England is on an ODI-winning hot-streak, having last lost to India in Kolkata back in October 2011, while South Africa stuttered towards the end of its series against Sri Lanka earlier this year, losing the last two matches before completing a clean sweep over New Zealand.
On paper, it looks an evenly matched contest, but rain, pressure and the odd brain fade will almost certainly play a part.
Players to watch
Faf du Plessis: Du Plessis has been in scintillating form the last twelve months or so, and he has himself admitted that he’s playing the best cricket of his life. With a potential spot in the Test side beckoning as Jacques Rudolph continues to struggle to cement his place and Jacques Kallis keeps needing careful management, du Plessis will want to do all he can to prove his worth in the shorter format of the game. If he manages to tee off, hold on to your seat, because it’ll be quite a ride.
Ian Bell: Bell made a serious mark during the one-days against Australia and West Indies earlier this year. For somebody who has been under the microscope for his ability to play in the shorter format of the game, Bell has done well to adjust to his role as opener and to fire in the absence of The One We Won't Name. If he manages to channel even half of the oomph he has had in the last few one-dayers, get ready for some serious pyrotechnics. DM
Photo: South Africa's captain AB de Villiers looks on during a training session before Tuesday's second one-day international cricket match against England at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton, England August 27, 2012. REUTERS/Philip Brown