June 21, 2017
Start time 6.30pm local (1730 GMT)
In the fast-paced world of international sport, there’s little time to rest on any laurels – or, indeed, lick any wounds, which is what England and South Africa are likely to have been doing in the past few days, as they reflect on their disappointing exits from the ICC Champions Trophy. So, where better for two hard-hitting white-ball teams to decamp than to a sun-baked South Coast, to engage in the opening bout of a three-match T20 contest that promises (at least on the evidence of their last encounter in this format…) an onslaught of cathartic tonking?
T20 cricket may be the world’s most in-vogue format at the moment but, in truth, this particular series crops up as an anomaly in the fixture list. The next World T20 isn’t until 2020 – fittingly enough – despite long-standing rumours of an extra tournament being shoehorned in for 2018, and as a consequence, these games have been a distant third in the priorities of two teams who will be embarking on a four-match Test series at Lord’s in little over a fortnight.
The names of the absentees for this series are as notable as the inclusions in two new-look squads. For South Africa, Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, JP Duminy and Kagiso Rabada have been rested with the Test series in mind, while Faf du Plessis is back home in South Africa awaiting the birth of his first child. England’s omissions, meanwhile, include Ben Stokes, Joe Root, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid – four integral members of the team that carried England to the World T20 final last year.
But, again, in the fast-paced world of international sport, one man’s absence is another man’s opportunity, and there’s a wealth of young thrusters on both sides eager to lay down a marker.
Eoin Morgan, England’s captain, has already confirmed that each of the five uncapped members of his squad will be given a maiden appearance in the coming three games, which means that some of the most talked-about young players in the country – most notably Liam Livingstone, Tom Curran and Mason Crane – are about to be unveiled to the wider English public.
For South Africa, the claims of a knot of lesser-known players can and should be advanced in the coming days, including Tabraiz Shamsi, the left-arm wristspinner who just missed out on selection for the Champions Trophy, and Dane Paterson, the right-arm quick who enjoyed himself on this same ground a fortnight ago, claiming 7 for 27 in a thumping win for South Africa A against Hampshire.
England LLWLW (completed matches, most recent first)
South Africa WLLWW</a>
In the spotlight
Legspinners are back in vogue at the moment, particularly in white-ball cricket – from Adil Rashid to Rashid Khan, from Imran Tahir to Shadab Khan. And now, on his home ground at the Ageas Bowl, there’s a strong possibility that England’s new young thing will be given his first international outing. It’s not easy being a spinner in England – and James Whitaker, the national selector, expressed his disappointment earlier in the season when Hampshire failed to select Mason Crane in the early rounds of the County Championship. But he’s got the sun on his back now, and a chance to give it a rip and hang the consequences. It would be a missed opportunity not to give him an outing and see how he goes.
Ostensibly, it’s a match for the kids, but one old stager has left himself a fair amount to prove in these three contests, after a lacklustre showing in the Champions Trophy. Something hasn’t been right with AB de Villiers on this England tour. He’s seemed distracted from the outset – tired, even – and having already ruled himself out of next month’s Test series, these games take on an improbable significance for a living legend of South African cricket. He’s back in charge of the team in du Plessis’s absence, and still has his sights set on a possible swansong at the 2019 World Cup. But he’s been confused about his priorities for months now, and it’s not inconceivable that he could be making his final appearances in England over the coming days.
Jason Roy’s stark loss of form during the Champions Trophy was mitigated in his most recent outing for Surrey, a matchwinning 92 from 81 balls in the Royal London semi-final against Worcestershire last week, and given the faith that Eoin Morgan has in his ball-striking skills, it would be a surprise if he was not slotted straight back in at the top of the order. Jonny Bairstow, who once again let no-one down as Roy’s replacement, deserves to be given another chance to start, perhaps ahead of Liam Livingstone, another hugely rated young England batsman, who may have to wait until later in the series for his first outing. Hampshire’s spin twins, Liam Dawson and Crane, could be able deputies for Moeen and Rashid. Mark Wood is only available for this opening game, so will surely lead the attack.
England (possible): 1 Jason Roy, 2 Alex Hales, 3 Sam Billings, 4 Eoin Morgan (capt), 5 Jonny Bairstow, 6 Jos Buttler (wk), 7 Liam Dawson, 8 Chris Jordan, 9 Tom Curran, 10 Mason Crane, 11 Mark Wood.
With a raft of big-name absentees at the top of the order, JJ Smuts and Reeza Hendricks are expected to open the batting, even though they’ve played only nine T20Is between them: Hendricks’ 49 against Australia in Sydney three years ago is their highest combined score to date. AB de Villiers could step up the order – as indeed could Wayne Parnell as a pinch-hitter – but de Villiers’ off-colour displays in the Champions Trophy suggest he may prefer to stick to more familiar surroundings at No.3 or 4. In the absence of Rabada, Andile Phehlukwayo may step up to take the new ball for the first time in international cricket.
South Africa (possible): 1 JJ Smuts, 2 Reeza Hendricks, 3 AB de Villiers (capt), 4 David Miller, 5 Farhaan Berhardien, 6 Mangaliso Mosehle (wk), 7 Wayne Parnell, 8 Dwaine Pretorius, 9 Andile Phehlukwayo, 10 Dane Paterson, 11 Imran Tahir/Tabraiz Shamsi
Pitch and conditions
The weather is scorchio and the pitch is likely to be hard, flat and true. In the most recent completed one-day match at the Ageas Bowl, back in May, Glamorgan chased down 333 to beat Hampshire by three wickets. More of the same should satisfy an anticipated capacity crowd.
Stats and trivia
- The last time these two sides met in a T20 international was a tussle for the ages – an unforgettable encounter in the 2016 World T20 in Mumbai, when England hunted down a record target of 230 to win by two wickets with two balls to spare.
- Overall, South Africa have had the better of the rivalry in 20-over cricket. Since 2007, they have won seven matches to England’s four, with one abandonment and a no-result at Old Trafford in 2012.time
- AB de Villiers needs another 43 runs to become the second South African, after JP Duminy, to reach 1500 T20 runs.
“We don’t have a T20 World Cup for two and a bit years, until 2020, so this is an opportunity particularly when the senior players are rested, to have a look at these new guys.”
Eoin Morgan wants his young players to seize their chances to impress in the coming three matches
“I don’t feel like I need to prove anyone wrong or prove something to someone. I just want to go play. I feel like a youngster starting my career again. I am really full of energy and love playing. I just want to score some runs again and captain the team to a few good wins.”
AB de Villiers insists he’s hungry to play international cricket.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket
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