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South Africa entered the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy as favourites but yet again crashed out in the first round after a couple of underwhelming performances against eventual finalists Pakistan and India.
The signs were there earlier during the world no.1 team's 1-2 loss to England in their ODI series just before the Champions Trophy. Now AB de Villiers, himself in the middle of a lean run with the bat, must bind his team together as stand-in skipper of the T20I side in Faf du Plessis's absence.
It won't be an easy task given how well England's limited overs sides have done in recent years. They had chased a world record 229 to beat South Africa enroute to the World Twenty20 final in 2016 which they would have run bar for some freakish hitting by Carlos Brathwaite in the final over of the game. More recently they had the wood over South Africa and had proceeded unbeaten to the semis of the Champions Trophy where they met a focused Pakistan.
AB de Villiers has a fight on many fronts, first to shake South Africa off any lingering blues from the Champions Trophy. The relatively young T20 side will not have the services of de Kock, Amla, Duminy or Rabada besides du Plessis. That is a lot of runs and some wickets to make up for. His own struggling form in batting, the format-selective appearances for South Africa and the lack of results since arriving in England have reduced AB's popularity among Protea fans and he will be keen to deliver on all fronts.
The absence of the seniors gives opportunities to SA's fringe players, including Tabraiz Shamsi to impress the management ahead of the end of coach Russell Domingo's tenure. Wayne Parnell could play a bigger role with the bat. With no major T20 tournament coming up, Eoin Morgan has recognized this series as a chance to try out Liam Livingstone, Mason Crane, Dawid Malan, Tom Curran and Craig Overton, the newcomers named in the squad. Jason Roy is expected to return after being dropped in the semifinal of the Champions Trophy.
The Rose Bowl pitch at Southampton is expected to be flat and hard, a perfect surface for the two opponents who last faced each other in a T20I in Mumbai where England chased down South Africa's 230 in a record innings.