The dust hadn’t even settled on England’s 80-run thrashing in Southampton in the last ODI match, when the ECB announced that Andrew Strauss would be holding a press conference the following day. We all knew what was coming; Strauss was out and Graeme Smith’s tourists had claimed the scalp of yet another England captain, having sent Michael Vaughan and Kevin Pietersen packing on previous tours.
But regardless of that bombshell, the home side need to focus on the task in hand this Friday. Following Tuesday’s defeat, Cook, who is now skipper in the longer forms, was quick to criticise his team’s woeful fielding performance which he felt had cost them dearly. Admittedly, the hosts' fielding was abysmal - most notably with Amla dropped several times - but England must improve more than their fielding in order to slow the South African juggernaut at the Oval.
One player who will be under the microscope going into this crucial game is keeper Craig Kieswetter, who had a day he would rather forget at the Aegeas Bowl on Tuesday. The Somerset stumper dropped much of what came his way and was then embarrassed while batting by South Africa's debutant spinner Dean Elgar. With Yorkshire keeper and England’s new darling Jonny Bairstow waiting in the wings, time could be running out for Kieswetter with the ICC T20 World Cup just around the corner.
England will have to make do without their most consistent one-day bowler, as Graeme Swann will be rested for the remaining three games while he continues to recover from a long-standing elbow injury. Kent off-spinner James Tredwell has been drafted into the squad and probably the team as a like-for-like replacement in an otherwise unchanged line-up.
After another convincing victory, something of the norm on this tour, South Africa are unlikely to make any changes. This means Dale Steyn will be on twelfth man duty once again. In his absence their attack will continue to be led by Morne Morkel and World no.1 ODI bowler Lonwabo Tsotsobe – nope, the ICC World rankings don’t make any sense to me either.
When South Africa last batted at the Oval (some weeks ago in a test match) they scored 637 runs for the loss of just two wickets and that man Hashim Amla helped himself to an unbeaten triple hundred. The Oval pitch is one of the finest batting surfaces in world cricket and with bright sunshine forecast on the final day of August a first innings score of 300 plus is more than likely.
The England team will no doubt be determined to win here en route to reclaiming their No.1 status with a series win. But I just cannot see it, and as a result I feel South Africa represent very strong value at 1.95.