Cape Town – The limited-overs combat between South Africa and England this summer looks less and less likely to be a mere afterthought to the four-match Test series.
Main business remains the prestigious Basil D’Oliveira Trophy five-dayers, starting at Kingsmead on Boxing Day, with sell-out crowds already expected more or less throughout as the world’s No 1-ranked side entertains the present Ashes-holders.
But when the tour switches to one-day mode in early February, both the 50-overs matches (there are five on the roster between Feb 3 and 14) and two-game Twenty20 portion will keep the pot boiling to a healthy degree.
The T20 matches take place at Newlands on February 19 and the Wanderers on February 21 respectively.
For one thing, they will be meetings of form teams in both one-day formats, given that the Proteas come off away triumph over India in the ODIs and T20s, and England, similarly, have cleaned up Pakistan in Subcontinental conditions the United Arab Emirates.
There was one more T20 international remaining – on Monday, Sharjah, 18:00 SA time – in the UAE T20 series at the time of writing, but England are already 2-0 to the good so it is a dead- rubber affair.
They had earlier stormed back to win the ODIs 3-1, from 1-0 down.
The English were reduced to laughing stocks of one-day cricket, not for the first time in their history, after their embarrassing failure to advance from the group stages at the World Cup – Bangladesh beat them into fourth spot in Pool A – much earlier in the year.
But their subsequent turnaround has been stirring in both ODIs and T20s.
Shackles appear to have been freed, with England suddenly earning a reputation for high scoring in the former arena, in particular – they have gone past 300 in seven of their last 14 ODIs and their run rate since the World Cup according to statistics on www.espncricinfo.com is a smouldering 6.30.
As for the T20 landscape, if they do reach South Africa having clean-swept the Pakistanis 3-0 on Monday night, England will enter that series with six successive victories to their credit, which would include prior once-off triumphs (all at home) over India, New Zealand and Australia.
They would also, under those circumstances, fast be threatening their own world record for most T20 wins on the trot – eight in a productive period between 2010 and 2011.
South Africa once went seven games without defeat, during 2009.
Bilateral T20 contests tend not to carry major gravitas much of the time, even if they put plenty of bums on seats, but it will be different on this occasion, given the close proximity to the ICC World Twenty20 event in India from March 11.
Both teams will be in the throes of preparation for that tournament when they lock horns.
*South Africa lead England 25-22 in all 51 ODI meetings (one tie, three no-results), and 5-3 in all nine T20 encounters (one no-result).
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