ODI series preview: England v SA

England have their inadequacies in the five-day game to rectify and their momentary spot at the helm of the ODI rankings to justify, while South Africa want to avenge 2008's four-nil drubbing and hone their World Twenty20 preparations.

<b>Brief Overview</b><br>The highs – for the Proteas – and lows – for the English – of the Test series take a backseat to challenge of five one-dayers in London, Cardiff and beyond.

England have their inadequacies in the five-day game to rectify and their momentary spot at the helm of the ODI rankings to justify, while South Africa want to avenge 2008's four-nil drubbing and hone their World Twenty20 preparations.

Limited-overs competitions strapped onto the end of Test series are never really a great marvel, but again audiences will be blessed with a battle of one versus two. A mere few decimal points separates them currently, with the next 12 days sure to part the men from the boys good and proper.

<b>Recent Form</b><br>England – and England fans – won't forget quickly their four-nil trouncing of Australia in July, when they upended the then number one-ranked team at every turn. Before that, they combated the West Indies – namely Chris Gayle and Sunil Narine – appropriately.

South Africa, meanwhile, romped through the Black Caps and Sri Lanka at home. While their killer instinct was entirely prevalent in New Zealand, the Proteas will rue only winning the series against the Sri Lankans three-two after taking a three-nil lead.

<b>Dangermen</b><br><i>England:</i> A slot normally reserved for Kevin Pietersen is handed to <b>Jonny Bairstow</b>. Whether he is going to crack the nod ahead of Ravi Bopara or Eoin Morgan in the first-choice XI hangs in the balance, but there is little denying the sweet dynamic Yorkshireman brings to the side. Would England dare give him the gloves ahead of Craig Kieswetter, and thus facilitate space for Morgan, Bopara and Bairstow…?

<i>South Africa:</i> Sidelined from the Test fold by the emergence of Vernon Philander, <b>Lonwabo Tstosobe</b> plies his trade solely in limited-overs competition these days – and to darn good effect, given his standing at the helm of the ICC ODI rankings for bowlers. The English decks will suit his southpaw seam entirely.

<b>Benchwarmers</b><br><i>England:</i>Even with Stuart Broad rested, Jade Dernbach and <b>Chris Woakes</b> hang down the pecking order. It's the latter, though, that his going to struggle the most to crack the final nod. A perennial call-up to the squad but never quite the go-to guy come final selection, Woakes has much to prove before returning to his former, pre-injury prowess

<i>South Africa:</i> <b>Ryan McLaren</b>, despite his fine all-round performance in the recent win over Gloucestershire, is likely to remain on the fringes. Unless, of course, Albie Morkel's left ankle impingement rules him out of the series for good.

<b>Combination Conundrum</b><br>Tim Bresnan's fall from grace in the Test series brings into doubt his ODI berth, and England must soon decide if they are going to afford him a chance at redemption or resign him to the backburner for the time being.

Whether there is enough space for Graeme Swann <i>and</i> Samit Patel in the same team, too, is a point of contention. Bopara's recent form with the ball – for Essex and Gloucestershire – suggests England can rely on his seam more, paving the way for Patel's exit and the addition of a specialist batsman.

South Africa will want to be considerably less cavalier with their batting order. The series in New Zealand brought all sorts of combinations, ranging from the use of three different batsman at first-drop to Wayne Parnell opening the batting.

The absence of Jacques Kallis is easily filled, but by who? Faf du Plessis is surely the best best to move up the order amid a fairly long-term view. Imran Tahir's expense away from the sub-continent, meanwhile, has fellow spinner Robin Peterson as the preferred pick.

<b>Last Five Head-To-Head Results</b><br>2011: World Cup, Group B: England won by six runs in Chepauk<br>2009: Fourth ODI: England won by seven wickets in Port Elizabeth<br>2009: Third ODI: South Africa won by 112 runs in Cape Town<br>2009: Second ODI: England won by seven wickets in Centurion<br>2009: Champions Trophy, Group B: England won by 22 runs in Centurion

<b>Prediction</b><br>This is going to be tight – and so it should be, given the mere fraction separating the duo in the rankings. <b>England for the win</b>, ultimately, four-one, as South Africa fail to match the heady heights achieved in the Test series.

Online betting firm <a href='http://www.skybet.com/betting/cricket/c30.html' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>Sky Bet</b></a> have England at 10/11 to win the series, while South Africa sport the same odds. Visit Sky Bet for the latest <a href='http://www.skybet.com/betting/cricket/c30.html' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>cricket betting</b></a>.

<b>Probable Starting XIs</b><br><i>England:</i> Alastair Cook (captain), Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott, Jonny Bairstow, Eoin Morgan, Samit Patel, Craig Kieswetter (wicketkeeper), Tim Bresnan, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Steven Finn.

<i>South Africa:</i> Hashim Amla, Graeme Smith, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers (captain, wicketkeeper), JP Duminy, Justin Ontong, Albie Morkel, Robin Peterson, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Lonwabo Tsotsobe.

<b>Fixtures</b><br>First ODI: 24 August, Sophia Gardens, Cardiff<br>Second ODI: 28 August, Rose Bowl, Southampton<br>Third ODI: 31 August, The Oval, London<br>Fourth ODI: 2 September, Lord's, London<br>Fifth ODI: 5 September, Trent Bridge, Nottingham