Match: South Africa v Pakistan, 1st ODI (5 match series)
Venue: Chevrolet Park, Bloemfontein, South Africa.
Date and time: 10th March, 2013, 13:00 PST / 08:00 GMT
Overall Rivalry: Dominance; South Africa 38 wins, Pakistan 18 wins
Weather Report: Forecast of clear skies, with temperatures ranging between 20 to 30 degrees Celsius. A mild breeze on a warm day is expected to provide perfect conditions for cricket.
Ground Report: Formerly known as the Springbok Park, this ground is located in the centre of the city. There is usually a festive atmosphere on its large grass banks and the spectators are often seen enjoying their barbeque grills and chilled lager pints.
With normally a slow but a high run scoring wicket, this ground is mostly used for limited over cricket. A full house crowd will expect to see plenty of runs on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Game On: There is little doubt in the quality of the current Proteas team and the talent amongst its ranks. However, while they are number one in Test cricket, they have not been able to do justice in the shorter formats; they are ranked sixth in T20 and fourth in One Day Internationals. South Africa has lost three out of their last six ODI series played at home.
Dale Steyn is on a vacation in the United States while Morne Morkel is still recuperating from a hamstring. With Vernon Philander being strictly used for Test cricket, Pakistani batsmen will be relieved not facing the pace trio that caused them trouble during the whitewash last month although, Steyn and Morkel are expected to feature later in the series.
After a despondent Test whitewash, Pakistan found some respite in the one-off T20 at Centurion with their ace bowler Umar Gul finding form and Mohammad Hafeez finding his feet, in a format both seem more comfortable in.
Hafeez has been groomed and tipped as the successor of Misbah-ul-Haq in all formats of the game but his own drop in form during this tour has raised doubts on his progression to the post. Misbah-ul-Haq might still be able to retain his designation in Test cricket but the end of his ODI career could only be a series away. Personal form of Hafeez and Misbah in the next five ODIs might be a defining point in their career and can lead to a change of guard in Pakistan cricket.
Rumours of a rift between the two men circled the cricketing grapevine, but were shrugged off by their manager Naveed Akram labelling them as a part of a negative campaign to demoralise the tourists. In a team traditionally known to disintegrate into camps, it will be important for Misbah to maintain the unity he has been able to find amongst his men.
In half-baked preparation, both teams are not scheduled to play against any full member nation before they travel to England for the last edition of the Champions Trophy in June. Though the momentum may not last over such a long duration, both teams will try to get their best combination ready for the championship. South Africa in particular will look to gear up for the event in a bid to adorn their trophy cabinet with elusive ICC silverware.
Jacques Kallis does not play any bilateral ODIs so he can extend his Test career, though he regularly features in the IPL and it will be interesting to see if Kallis is picked for the Champions Trophy later this year.
The ODI series will see a full strength South Africa under the leadership of AB de Villiers. Their coach Gary Kirsten has indicated that they plan to make the most of the 20 potential ODI matches scheduled before their next Test match assignment.
South Africa will keep a close eye on the ODI ICC rankings as they will need to top the charts in at least two if not all forms of the game in order to claim complete dominance in world cricket. If they are able to whitewash Pakistan, they will jump to the number one spot.
Game Changer: Pakistan need to show the aggression and intent they displayed in the T20 game at SuperSport Park. With South Africa playing the first game without their best fast bowlers, Pakistan might have an opportunity to use their blades with good effect, early in the series.
Pre-Game Talk: "The players that are in this squad are the best players in the country. That's why they're selected. We're not experimenting. We're playing the best players," Gary Kirsten means business.
"South Africa had let its B team play (in the T20 game) but in the ODI series its real team would enter the ground," former Pakistani captain Salim Malik shares his thought.
Last XI Fielded South Africans: Quinton de Kock, Graeme Smith, Colin Ingram, Faf du Plessis (Cap), David Miller, Farhaan Behardien, Rory Kleinveldt, Ryan McLaren, Aaron Phangiso, Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe
Last XI Fielded Pakistanis: Nasir Jamshed, Kamran Akmal (wk), Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq(capt), Umar Akmal, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Umar Gul, Junaid Khan, Saeed Ajmal, Muhammad Irfan.
South Africa: Hashim Amla, Ab de Villiers, Robin Peterson and Kyle Abbot are set to replace David Miller, Quinton de Kock, Aron Phangiso and Dale Steyn.
Pakistan: Shahid Afridi was not selected for the tour of India but benching him will be a big decision for the team management to take. Selection dilemma is further complicated with Umar Akmal, Younis Khan, Asad Sahfiq and Shoaib Malik all battling for a place in the middle while Imran Farhat has also shown signs of form at the top of the order. Misbah is consistent in his selection policy and a complete revamp is not expected.
Final Words: Pakistan, home or away, has never won a bilateral series against South African. The odds favour South Africa but Pakistan is known to swing the wager. If the right Pakistani team shows up, it will be an enthralling contest.