Settled England face desperate SA

Associated Press

Johannesburg, January 29:

With South Africa desperate to reclaim its place as one of the top three cricketing powers, England faces a team willing to play with abandon on Sunday in the first of seven limited-overs internationals. England won a hard-fought five-match Test series 2-1, to deliver South Africa its first home defeat to England in 40 years, but it was a lot closer than statistics might suggest. With South Africa able to field a limited-overs team that will probably closely resemble the Test lineup, the home team will feel settled with its game and eager to prove a point. England has seen its lineup substantially altered by the departure of some of its biggest names through injury. Chief among its losses is the imposing figure of allrounder Andrew Flintoff with a foot injury. Although not as dominating as he can be, he showed glimpses of his imperious best in the Test series, both batting and bowling for England.

But South African-born Kevin Pietersen is possibly a greater asset for England than even Flintoff. South Africa’s front line bowlers — especially Shaun Pollock — will have made a mental note of his dismissal — caught at midwicket attempting to force a delivery from outside off. And in bowling, England retains Matthew Hoggard, whose swing and direction was a major problem.

The return of Darren Gough and the presence of Alex Wharf strengthens England’s bowling after a poor series by strike Steve Harmison. Harmison will not play in the opening matches due to a calf injury. South Africa has bolstered its Test lineup with big-hitting allrounder Justin Kemp, the 31-year-old veteran Adam Bacher.