Right, we are on to the stuff that matters. After an ODI series that not even the weather wanted to be completed, we are entering the T20I season with all eyes on the World Cup. England have a whopping 13 fixtures before the tournament; South Africa have only eight matches, the bulk of which are in the next ten days, and without regular captain Temba Bavuma.
Even if the results don’t matter that much, this is a team that has collected bilateral trophies over the last few years and not having any to add to the cabinet will sting. England have lost their last two T20I series (against India and in West Indies) but before that, won four out of five and entered the last year’s T20I World Cup in a rich vein of form. They will want to re-find that ahead of this year’s event.
Meanwhile, Miller is their most experienced batter, as is his counterpart Buttler, as both will want to show their value by leading from the front.
(Last five completed T20Is, most recent first)
South Africa LLWWW
In the spotlight
Dawid Malan has had a slightly tougher time than usual in this format recently, and broke a year-long drought without a half-century in T20Is with 77 in the final T20I against India. He was the leading run-scorer when England toured South Africa late in 2020, and was England’s best batter recently against India too.
Malan’s first fifty in 11 innings since mid-2021 meant he had slipped from No.1 to No.4 on the T20I batting rankings, and will be keen to regain some ground as he faces South Africa, against whom he averages 59.
But it remains to be seen whether all has been forgiven and forgotten after the way he left. Of all those who chose to cut their international careers short, Rossouw’s was the most puzzling, not least because South Africa’s selectors had stuck with him after he was dismissed for four ducks in his first six ODI innings and there was talk of him being promoted to the Test side.
Jonny Bairstow had some ice on his knee for what seemed to be a swelling, although he played a full part in practice before the game. He has insisted he will be fit to play and is expected to continue at No. 4, as he has been doing in this format over the last 18 months, albeit with mixed results. England are likely to stick with the extra batter as they did for the third T20I against India, and may rotate their seamers to minimise risk of injury.
England (probable): 1 Jason Roy, 2 Jos Buttler (capt/wk), 3 Dawid Malan, 4 Jonny Bairstow, 5 Liam Livingstone, 6 Phil Salt/Harry Brook, 7 Moeen Ali, 8 Sam Curran/David Willey, 9 Chris Jordan, 10 Adil Rashid, 11 Reece Topley
South Africa will have to chose between Dwaine Pretorius, who also operates as a pinch hitter; Andile Phehlukwayo, who is coming back from a mild concussion and will be assessed ahead of the game; and Wayne Parnell in the allrounders’ role. In the pace attack, Kagiso Rabada is back after being rested from the ODIs.
South Africa (probable): 1 Quinton de Kock (wk), 2 Rilee Rossouw, 3 Rassie van der Dussen, 4 Aiden Markram, 5 Heinrich Klaasen, 6 David Miller (capt), 7 Dwaine Pretorius 8 Keshav Maharaj/Tabraiz Shamsi, 9 Kagiso Rabada, 10 Anrich Nortje, 11 Lungi Ngidi
Pitch and conditions
In this year’s T20 Blast, the average first innings score in Bristol was 171, while in Cardiff – the venue for the second T20I just a day after – it sits at 147. That could mean bowlers who have worked on their variations will have a big role to play in taking pace off the ball and getting movement off the seam.
Also, the good news is that the rain that affected the ODIs is not likely to interrupt the T20Is. Wednesday is due to be cloudy and cool, with temperatures of around 22 degrees.
Stats and trivia
England and South Africa are neck-and-neck in T20Is against each other. They have played 22, with England winning 11 and South Africa ten, with one no result. However, England have won the last three series between the two sides, including a 3-0 sweep in November 2020.
“Why would we change it? We have been doing well with it over the past few years, so I think we will continue doing what we have been doing.”
England will keep going in guns blazing, according to Adil Rashid, who does not see any need to alter their approach
“Things do get a little bit crazy and frantic out there, but it’s just about having your clear plans and staying as calm as possible.”
David Miller is preparing for his second stint as stand-in captain
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent