Ed Hawkins previews game one from Jo'burg on Saturday and gambles on Babar Azam returning to the top of the order...
"Babar is 9/2 for top match runscorer and there is a 6% edge on career figures"
South Africa v Pakistan
Saturday 10 April 13.30
TV: live on BT Sport
South Africa have lost half of their team due to the IPL. There is no Quinton de Kock, Lungi Ngidi, David Miller, Kagiso Rabada or Anrich Nortje. A potential reserve like Marco Jansen has also gone. Just think of the team they could put if AB De Villiers and Chris Morris were also available.
In addition, new skip Temba Bavuma and Dwaine Preorius have succumbed to injury while Reeza Hendricks is on paternity leave. The hosts will do well to get a team out.
Heinrich Klaasen will captain the misfits while Aiden Markram has been called in as opener. Unsurprisingly they are short on batting power.
Possible XI Markram, Malan, Van der Dusseen, Klaasen, Verreynne, van Biljon, Mulder, Linde, Shamsi, Magala, B Hendricks
Pakistan have added Fakhar Zaman to the squad after his sensational form in the ODI with twin centuries. He should retain his spot at the top of the order. But who joins him?
Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan and Sharjeel Khan are all options. Sharjeel may not even get into the XI. That is Pakistan's dilemma. Do they take a chance on only five bowlers with South Africa weakened? Or do they play safe with the ball and bat all-rounder Faheem Ashraf at No 6?
Possible XI Fakhar, Rizwan, Babar, Hafeez, Haider, Faheem, Nawaz, Afridi, Hasnain, Rauf, Qadir
The last ten first-innings scores at The Wanderers (1-2 denote match won by team batting first or second) read: 196-1/171-2/155-1/108-2/213-1/203-1/163-2/144-2/181-1/169-1. A mixed bag? Ish. But it is clear that the wicket can be a road and if a team is not aiming for the 180s then it is trouble defending.
Pakistan should fancy a big score if they bat first. But they are not fast scorers in the last two years. They are at No 8 in the world for collective strike rate behind the established nations - and Afghanistan. Unsurprisingly they have busted 200 only once in the last three years. They have busted 180 only five times (21 innings) as well. SO don't go mad on something monstrous.
South Africa lost a T20 series 2-1 in Pakistan in February. Relevant? Yes because they were without De Kock, Nortje, Ngidi and Rabada. They gave a good account of themselves.
A switch to home conditions, then, makes them a tempting fancy at 2.3411/8, although we expect that to drift further when more become aware of the team news. Pakistan are 1.738/11.
Betting Pakistan at such odds is often fraught with danger, not least because of that record when batting first. They are, however, extremely dangerous with the ball. South Africa may prefer to bat second.
Ordinarily we would be all over the price boost of 3/1 for Babar Azam for top Pakistan bat from Sportsbook. It's a huge edge (13 points on career form) but we suspect they have inflated his odds because they - like we should be - are unsure of where he will bat. He dropped down to No 3 in his last outing for Pakistan against South Africa.
Rizwan opened in that series and was sensational. He is 11/4. Babar is 9/2 for top match runscorer and there is a 6% edge on career figures.
For South Africa Jannie Malan is 11/4 and he boasts an impressive 136 career strike rate. But he's not value. Klaasen and Pite van Biljon stand out in that regard at 5s and 11/2.