ODI series preview: SA vs Australia

Australia

Facing the number one-ranked ODI team is tough enough, but doing so ring rusty and minus the services of AB de Villiers makes the hosts' task all the more difficult.

While the two T20Is offered a tasty starter, South Africa's home season kicks off with a full-blown main course as they meet their old enemy across three one-dayers.

Facing the number one-ranked ODI team is tough enough, but doing so ring rusty on the back of a six-month off-season and minus the services of AB de Villiers – not so much his captaincy, but certainly his prowess with the bat – makes the hosts' task all the more difficult.

De Villiers' sidelining after picking up an injury during the Champions League Twenty20 has afforded Mark Boucher his long-awaited ODI lifeline. The veteran wicketkeeper-batsman mustn't be fooled, though, there is nothing long-term about his limited-overs comeback. The balance of the one-day side doesn't allow for Boucher and de Villiers. This is a stopgap measure and Boucher's real role lies in the Test matches to come.

A batting order potentially riddled with questions has been eased by the makeup of the 14-man squad. Hashim Amla and Graeme Smith are sure to handle the top of the knock again, even if their collective showing in last week's T20Is failed to inspire, and Jacques Kallis and JP Duminy at three and four sticks to familiarity. Faf du Plessis, meanwhile, has done enough to land the number-five berth, though probably wouldn't crack the nod for the first-choice XI were de Villiers fit.

With Colin Ingram shoved out of the picture for the time being and Albie Morkel half injured and half out of favour, David Miller returns as the finisher and then it's into the all-rounders and bowlers, who'll be on rotation depending on conditions. Dale Steyn's return gives Morne Morkel the partner in pace he lacked last week.

This will be the first real test of the new brains trust, with the public afforded a glimpse into Gary Kirsten and Allan Donald's thinking for the future. Amla, standing in for de Villiers, admitted that the Twenty20s in Newlands and Johannesburg were hardly ideal in judging the true mettle and makeup of the team.

The ODIs – just three of them rather than the usual five – is a far better testing ground. Just how that test turns out might make or break a few careers – namely that of Smith, whose place in the one-day setup is now under fire more than ever after he threw in the captaincy.

Australia, like South Africa, are in a leadership transition. While coach Troy Cooley's role is on an interim basis, Michael Clarke's captaincy is certainly for the long haul. Off the mark with tidy ease on the sub-continent recently, Ricky Ponting's successor takes an exciting outfit to Centurion and beyond.

The usual stock standard are complemented by a host of fresh, young talent. Pat Cummins showed what all the hype was about last week and comes into a pace attack needing someone to fire with regularity after Brett Lee was sidelined by a dodgy appendix and Mitchell Johnson's form continues to worry. With Shane Watson battling a hip concern, the teenager's graduation garners even more importance.

Should Watson not crack full fitness come Thursday's series opener, David Warner's return to the ODI fold takes on a hang of a lot more significance. The cavalier left-hander proved in the CLT20 that he is much more measured than the brash character that burst onto the scene a couple of years ago – and he'll need all that maturity to move on from back-to-back ducks in the T20Is while looking after the top of the knock. Promoting the in-form Hussey to shepherd Warner seems a smart move.

To cap off the batting ranks let it be said that Ponting, unlike Smith, has nothing to prove after stepping down the from the captaincy. His place as a specialist batsman is guaranteed. That of his former opposite number is anything but.

Ultimately – and thankfully – a slew of 'nothing' cricket across the sub-continent recently takes a backseat to a real, meaty series this time around. While this is not the great Aussie juggernaut of yesteryear nor the formidable Proteas unit of old, it remains one versus three in an affair entirely worthy of its big billing.

<B>Key Men</b><br><i>South Africa:</i> Effectively keeping Ingram and Albie Morkel out of the side, <B>David Miller</B> will want to deliver with great gusto at six in the order. It seems just a matter of time before he makes his spot permanent, and this just might be the series to do it.

<i>Australia:</i> Prolific in Sri Lanka and very consistent in India, <B>Michael Hussey</B> made the switch from Test cricket to limited-overs competition with remarkable ease. Australia, who wisely rested him from domestic competition this week, will need their batting kingpin at full force if they are to trump the Proteas.

<b>Last Five Head-To-Head Results</b><BR>Fifth ODI: April, 2009: Australia won by 47 runs in Johannesburg<BR>Fourth ODI: April, 2009: South Africa won by 61 runs in Port Elizabeth<BR>Third ODI: April, 2009: South Africa won by 25 runs in Cape Town<BR>Second ODI: April, 2009: South Africa won by seven wickets in Centurion<BR>First ODI: April, 2009: Australia won by 141 runs in Durban

<b>Prediction</b><br>While South Africa probably don't have it in them to go all the way for a whitewash to join the Aussies at the helm of the ODI rankings, they're likely to put two past their opposition and then lose the last.

Online betting firm <a href='http://www.skybet.com/betting/cricket/c30.html' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><B>Sky Bet</B></a> has South Africa at 4/6 in the <a href='http://www.skybet.com/betting/cricket/c30.html' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><B>betting</B></a> for overall series victory. Visit Sky Bet for the latest cricket betting.

<b>Squads</b><br><i>South Africa:</i> Hashim Amla (captain), Johan Botha, Mark Boucher (wicketkeeper), JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Imran Tahir, Jacques Kallis, David Miller, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Robin Peterson, Graeme Smith, Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe.

<i>Australia:</i> Michael Clarke (captain), Shane Watson, Doug Bollinger, Patrick Cummins, Xavier Doherty, Brad Haddin (wicketkeeper), Mike Hussey, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, James Pattinson, Ricky Ponting, Steven Smith, David Warner, Cameron White.

<b>Fixtures</b><br>First ODI: 19 October, Centurion<BR>Second ODI: 23 October, Port Elizabeth<BR>Third ODI: 28 October, Durban

<b>Jonhenry Wilson</b>

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