Ed Hawkins previews game one from Kimberley on Sunday and suggests a depleted hosts might be vulnerable
"With two of Zimbabwe's top three wicket-takers missing the depth might not be there for a total to realistically go after"
South Africa v Zimbabwe
Sunday 30 September 09.00
TV: live on Sky Sports
Steyn could return for South Africa
If South Africa will be feeling sore at losing the skills of all-rounder Wayne Parnell to England (another Kolpak contract offer which has proved too tempting to turn down) the sight of Dale Steyn tearing in for his first appearance in an ODI short for three years will provide a tonic.
Steyn could form a potent new-ball partnership with Kagiso Rabada. While the former has been away the latter has established himself as one of the best in the world. Imran Tahir, rested for the tour of Sri Lanka, returns after impressing in T20 tournaments in England and the Caribbean.
Faf Du Plessis, the captain, is out of the squad with a shoulder injury, likewise Hashim Amla. There is no spot for Quinton de Kock with Heinrich Klaasen catching the eye instead. JP Duminy is a reliable sorts but Zimbabwe may feel this is a batting line-up which they can contain.
Key players back for Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe are pretty close to full-strength thanks to the not-irrelevant matter of actually paying their players. Top guns Brendan Taylor, Craig Ervine and Sean Williams are back in the squad after they ended their protests about unpaid salaries. All three had missed Zimbabwe's defeat by Pakistan in the summer in an ODI series.
There is, however, no spot for Sikandar Raza. He is their top runscorer in the last two years, averaging a mightily impressive 45. His dispute with Zimbabwe Cricket could not be resolved. He has proved to be a fine all-rounder, to boot, and 27 wickets have come in the study period. Graeme Cremer, reliable and doughty, has a knee injury and they will surely miss his wicket-taking ability.
Hamilton Masakadza, the skip, is there and he has solid numbers with the bat coming in at No 2 on those runs lists. It is worth pointing out that had Taylor been available for the full 30 matches over that period (instead of 15), he would be outscoring everyone.
Kimblerley a diamond track for batters
There have been 13 ODI played at Kimberley. But only four of those since 2008. It is a pretty good batting wicket historically. The run rate in those 13 games is 5.18. Last year Bangladesh posted 278 for seven but were beaten by ten wickets. If South Africa get the opportunity to bat first they will expect to bust 320.
Expectation on this being much of contest is on the low side. South Africa are no better than [1.07] with Zimbabwe [13.5]. Even a hefty toss bias of 10 wins in 13 for the chaser at the venue might not be enough to convince punters to part with some pennies on the visitors.
The worry is what Zimbabwe will do in the field. With two of their top three wicket-takers missing the depth might not be there for a total to realistically go after. They also have something of a stinker of a record against their neighbours. They have lost 27 in a row. And not one of those has even been close. They are routinely thrashed.
South Africa won 3-2 in Sri Lanka last time. Chink in the Saffers armour? No. As a formguide that is pretty irrelevant. They won't be face anything like the same spin threat or difficult wickets.
Still, the batting doesn't blow us away. There is scope for a small interest on a trade on the Zims if the toss goes their way.
Amla notched a ton in that game against Bangladesh last term. He will have expected to go big again considering the weakened bowling attack. In the absence of De Kock as well, Reeza Hendricks and Aiden Markram could open. Klaasen could be used as a blaster also. Hendricks is 7/2 with Betfair Sportsbook and Markram 5/2. Klaasen is 7/1.
Taylor might not have much to beat on the top Zimbabwe runscorer market. Certainly that seems the case when you filter stats to show runs scored against the established nations. In 148 matches against the elite, Taylor has a tremendous record, averaging 33 with eight centuries. He is world class. In the last five years he has 826 runs in 20 matches. Masakadza, who tops the charts in that period, has 1,332 in 47. Taylor averages 41, Masakadza 28. Taylor's closest rival in terms of talent is the absent Raza, who averages 34.
Ed Hawkins P-L
Based only on available prices. Does not include back-to-lay in-running match advice or commission rate. Figures 2013-2016 on 1pt level stakes. New points system (0.5pt-5) introduced for 2017. Includes Hawk-Eye stats column p-l