Jofra Archer’s return headlines an otherwise low-key one-day series in South Africa that begins a crucial year for the England men’s team.
Fast bowler Archer, 27, is set to feature for England for the first time in almost two years on Friday (1100 GMT).
The three-match series begins a 2023 in which England will look to defend the World Cup at 50 and regain the Ashes.
The opener is in Bloemfontein, as is the second match on Sunday, before a final at Kimberley on Wednesday.
The series is postponed from 2020, when England left South Africa after a number of positive coronavirus tests.
To be played, the inaugural season of the South African T20 league has taken an eight-day break and will resume on February 2.
This tour and England’s limited trip to Bangladesh in March – also postponed from 2021 – comes either side of a two-Test series in New Zealand in February, and only a handful of players are involved in the red and white ball teams.
England, world champions in both limited-edition formats, will defend the 50+ title they won in 2019 in India in October and November.
Archer will get better and better
Elbow and back injuries have kept Archer out of action for England since a T20 series in India in early 2021.
He made his return to competitive cricket earlier this month in the South African T20 league, winning eight wickets in five matches for MI Cape Town.
The Sussex man toppled the super in the final that helped England win the World Cup in 2019 and he would likely be India’s attacking leader later this year if he can stay fit .
He has expressed his desire to play in the Ashes, but his short-term future lies in limited overs cricket for both England and the Indian Premier League.
“It’s great that Jofra is back, fit and playing cricket again,” England captain Jos Buttler said. “I think I speak for everyone – he’s such an exciting guy to be back on the pitch.
“As England captain, having him in the team is great. I’m sure he will get better and better when he comes back.
“There is no expectation from my side on Jofra. He will come back and play brilliantly because that is what he is capable of doing.
“He’s coming back after a long spell. The intensity of international cricket is different and he’s had some major injuries. It would be naive to think that it wouldn’t take him a bit of time to reach 100%. It’s just fantastic to see him fit and play again.”
The countdown to the World Cup starts now
England have played just 12 ODIs since the summer of 2021 and three of them were a bizarre series in Australia after their successful T20 World Cup campaign.
The series in South Africa and Bangladesh are England’s last in terms of catching up with the disruption caused by Covid-19, so in theory there should be less need for players to be shared between teams Test and limited.
Still, England’s setup of the year – they play no ODIs between March and September – means every game serves as vital preparation for the World Cup.
A combination of injuries, rest and Test selection left England without Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Liam Livingstone and Mark Wood in South Africa.
While England entered the 2019 World Cup with a squad that had been settled for some time, there are vacancies in the middle order following the recent retirements of former captain Eoin Morgan. and Test skipper Ben Stokes, although Stokes himself and white ball coach Matthew Mott left the door open for the all-rounder to play in the World Cup.
“We have a World Cup in nine months and we don’t have many games before that,” Buttler said.
“These are all really vital games to give the guys chances and exposure in the ODI format, and opportunities to carve out a place in the XI or 15 for the World Cup.
“There are two big names, Morgan and Stokes, who are no longer there. Those are big holes to fill, so it’s exciting for the guys to have this opportunity to put their hands up and claim those places.”
Roy still looking for groceries
Fly-half Jason Roy is still on the hunt for points, having gone 14 international innings without recording half a century and losing his place in the T20 squad ahead of the World Cup.
Bairstow will return to the top of the order when he recovers from a broken leg, leaving Roy under pressure from Phil Salt, Dawid Malan, Alex Hales and Will Jacks.
Salt and Malan are in South Africa, although Salt is suffering from illness and could miss Friday’s game.
Harry Brook and Ben Duckett, who both impressed in Test and T20 cricket, have the chance to claim their rights in the ODI format before joining the Test squad in New Zealand.
Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali continue as front line spinners, although with the World Cup taking place in India, England may need to find a slow third bowler as cover.
In Wood’s absence, Olly Stone joins Archer as a high-paced option, alongside regular seamstresses Chris Woakes, Reece Topley, David Willey and tournament T20 World Cup player Sam Curran.