England take on South Africa over the next week in a standalone ODI series rescheduled from 2020 after a Covid scare abruptly curtailed the last tour.
There has been a low-key feel ahead of these three matches – two in Bloemfontein and one in Kimberley – but England are just a few months away from defending their 50-over World Cup crown.
Here the PA news agency looks at some of the main talking points ahead of the first match at Bloemfontein on Friday.
Focus now on ODIs
While England won the T20 World Cup in November and Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum have revolutionised the Test team, they won one of four ODI series last year – against the non-Test playing Netherlands.
Since their lauded 2019 50-over triumph, the format has taken a backseat as the longest and shortest international formats have understandably taken priority.
But with the defence of their World Cup in India looming into view, Jos Buttler and company need to rediscover the kind of form that made them red-hot favourites last time out.
Jofra Archer was England’s fast bowling spearhead in 2019 – who can forget the way he handled the pressure in the final when delivering the Super Over that secured victory over New Zealand?
His international career has been on ice for nearly two years amid long-term elbow and back injuries but he has taken eight wickets in five matches, touching 90mph as well, on his comeback in the SA20.
England have cautioned against expecting too much, too soon and at this stage it will be heartening just to see him back in the international arena.
Roy under the microscope
Jason Roy has been a titanic figure at the top of the England white-ball order for several years and was so instrumental in them lifting their maiden 50-over crown four years ago.
But his form has nosedived in recent months to the extent he was dropped ahead of England’s T20 World Cup-winning campaign.
He still has a lot of credit in the bank but it is 14 international innings since his last fifty while he has averaged 12.5 this month in the SA20.
He remains in favour with Buttler but there is plenty of competition for Roy’s spot so he could do with a big innings in the next few days.
Don’t count on Big Ben
England’s Test captain surprisingly called time on his ODI career last year, pointing to an ever-expanding list of competing demands.
But head coach Matthew Mott said this week “the door is always open” for a return. Expect those calls to heighten as the World Cup draws ever closer.
The lure of a Stokes comeback is not hard to fathom given his reputation for shining on the biggest stage.
In the meantime, Ben Duckett and Harry Brook – who will make his ODI debut in this series – have opportunities in the middle-order to make sure Stokes’ absence goes unmissed.
More on the line for Proteas
While England are already assured of their World Cup place, South Africa’s hopes of gaining direct entry hang by a thread.
They sit outside the top-eight in the Super League with only five matches left – three against England, two versus the Netherlands – and realistically need to win four to have any hope of lifting themselves into the qualification spots.
Beating the double world champions therefore seems to be a must to avoid having to play in another qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe in June.
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