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With ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 not too far away, South Africa and Pakistan will both be looking to identify the perfect combination for the marquee tournament as they lock horns in a series followed by a three-match T20I series. The first of the five ODIs will be played at Port Elizabeth on the 19th of this month. After crumbling in the longest format of the game, the visitors will be keen to bounce back and prove their mettle in colored clothing. We are likely to see a few changes to the lineups of both the squads which limited-overs specialists joining back and red-ball players being rested. Although the Proteas won the red-ball battle 3-0, the series was fought well with Pakistan showing tremendous fight in the last match. If that is something to go by, the first ODI of the series promises to be nothing but electrifying.
The Proteas had a mixed last year as far as the results in the limited-overs format are concerned. They had an extremely poor start to 2018 as India mauled them to a 4-1 series defeat in ODIs. Their form, however, only bettered thereafter they first defeated Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka and then defeated Australia in an away series following a 3-0 home win against Zimbabwe.
The Proteas have an even better record at home in recent past as no team other than India has beaten them in the last couple of years.
South Africa have taken more of an experimental route going into the first couple of matches by resting Dale Steyn and Quinton de Kock and picking two uncapped players. Their batting struggled against the quality leg-spin bowling of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav and with more inexperience in their lineup, dealing with the likes of Shadab Khan and Imad Wasim will be a matter of concern for the Proteas.
Skipper Faf du Plessis return for them after missing out in the final test and will be a key figure for the home side considering that no other batsman has scored at an average of over 35 during the last year barring him. David Miller exhibited a couple of glorious knocks in Mzansi Super League and will be looking to replicate it against Pakistan as well.
Over the years, South Africa have produced some brilliant bowlers and youngsters have usually stepped up for them quickly. Duanne Olivier was brilliant for them in the test series and has been rewarded with a limited-overs squad for the first two matches. He'll have a familiar partner to bowl with - Kagiso Rabada. Rabada will have a huge responsibility to lead and mentor the fellow bowing mates including but not limited to Andile Phehklukwayo, Tabraiz Shamsi, and Imran Tahir, Dane Patterson, and of course Duanne Olivier in the absence of veteran Dale Steyn.
Overall, the sheer number of youngsters named in their squad highlights their seriousness about building the right squad for the World Cup and that, too, quickly. On paper, they appear to be a little light on batting but extremely sharp with the ball. As we have seen often seen in Cricket, the team better on paper doesn't always end up on the right side of the results and certainly the Proteas, too, will have to work hard to get the desired results.
Reeza Hendricks, Hashim Amla, RVD Dussen, Faf du Plessis, David Miller, Heinrich Klaasen, Dwaine Pretorius, Andile Phehlukwayo, Kagiso Rabada, Imran Tahir, Duanne Olivier.
Pakistan batsmen were troubled by short-deliveries which had a massive result on the final outcome. However, with the field and bowling restrictions in effect, the short balls aren't really going to be that huge a factor in this format.
Pakistan have played more ODI Cricket than the Proteas and have a commendable 17-10 win/loss ratio during 2019. The biggest boost for the Pakistani lineup will be the comeback of Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez who both have been instrumental in men in green's success over the years. Pakistan have improved massively after their ordinary performance in the Asia Cup and did well to draw a home series 1-1 against Kiwis.
Fakhar Zaman may have failed in the test series gone by, but the Proteas will be wary of the limited-overs form he was in prior to flying to South Africa. He has scored 1275 runs at an average of around 58 with a strike-rate of close to 100. Arguably the best batsmen on this tour for Pakistan, Babar Azam, will return to the top middle-order and he will be a huge threat for the Proteas bowlers in the opening ODI. With Asif Ali omitted from the side, Pakistan clearly lacks a power-hitter at the death and the onus will be on Shoaib Malik and Sarfraz Ahmed to provide their innings a flourishing finish.
Bowling-wise, the men in green have a plethora of options. Considering the way Proteas struggled against Indian spinners around a year ago, we might see both Shadab Khan and Imad Wasim included in the playing eleven with Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez playing the second-fiddle to the main-spinners. Hasan Ali is a certain starter for Pakistan and with the likes of Faheem Ashraf, Shaheen Afridi, Mohammad Amir, and Usman Khan Shinwari still to choose to complete their fast-attack, their coach Mickey Arthur will be in a sweet problem to pick the best out of the lot for the upcoming fixture.
F Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Sarfraz Ahmed, Shadab Khan, SI Wasim, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Usman Khan.
This series is the last limited-overs bilateral Pakistan are going to feature in before heading to England to play ICC World Cup. They have PSL coming up next month but will be keen to get their combination fixed for the marquee event. South Africa, too, have decided to give their youth a chance which was apparent by the inclusion of two uncapped players. They have had problems with a misfiring middle order and will be interesting to see how they decide to address this problem. Additionally, quality spinners have troubled almost all of their batsmen and Shadab Khan and Imad Wasim are likely to exploit that void. With a much-improved batting attack and a better-balanced lineup as compared to the test-team, the visitors finally look all set to score their first win on this tour.