England and South Africa will start the summer with a three-match T20 series, with both teams looking to lay down a marker before the Test and ODI series’.
In home conditions and going on the ICC rankings, England (2/3 to win the 1st T20) should be favourites to win the series but a messy plan from the selectors threatens to help the Proteas’ cause.
Several of England’s key limited-overs players will miss the three matches, with Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid and Jake Ball all absent. All five players will instead play for their counties in day-night County Championship matches.
Meanwhile, Mark Wood can only play in the first match – at Southampton on June 21 – and Jonny Bairstow will be allowed to play in the first and second T20s, before being withdrawn from the squad for the final match.
Considering the stars missing and the fact five uncapped players are included in the England squad, the prospects of a South Africa (21/20 to win the first game) win look more likely. Especially as England’s recent T20 form has been patchy, with two wins in their last six encounters.
In Imran Tahir, the tourists have the top bowler in the T20 rankings with the spinner taking 54 wickets in 31 T20 internationals at an economy rate of 6.38. The 38-year-old can be backed at 11/4 to be South Africa’s top bowler in the first T20 clash.
Although two of their top limited-overs batsmen, Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis, are missing they still have enough firepower to cause England problems.
Captain AB de Villiers has nine T20 half centuries, with two coming against England, to his name and is the 13/2 favourite to claim the Man of the Match award on Wednesday.
If England are going to make home advantage pay, they are likely to need a big series from captain Eoin Morgan – who has been struggling for form in recent international T20 encounters. The skipper (5/1 to be England’s top batsman at the Ageas Bowl) has scored just one fifty in his last 15 innings for England.
Four previous international T20s have been played at Southampton, with England winning two and losing two. The last match was against Sri Lanka in July 2016, when England chased down 140 comfortably although both teams lost early wickets – Under 21.5 is 5/6 in the ‘Runs At Fall of 1st Wicket’ market.
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