South Africa keep new-ball options open
South Africa will not anoint a permanent ODI new-ball partner to Kagiso Rabada, who is himself not always guaranteed to open the bowling, and will aim for a more flexible approach at the Champions Trophy, according to captain AB de Villiers. That marks a departure from the thinking of six months ago, when Rabada and Kyle Abbott were being specifically prepared for that role, before Abbott's Kolpak-enforced departure required South Africa to change tack.
When Abbott's international career ended in January, South Africa had just 10 matches across two series to search for someone else. In beating both Sri Lanka and New Zealand, they have decided they have not found one solution, but many.
"There's no need to commit to an opening partnership. Whoever is taking the new ball will be taking it for a specific reason, looking at batsmen or conditions," de Villiers said. "KG also didn't open the bowling in one of the games so we are quite flexible with that. We wouldn't like to commit to an opening partnership."
Their reasons are sound because they have several candidates capable of filling the role and they have found success with different combinations, so much so that they have bowled their opposition out six times in the last 10 matches. De Villiers has identified that as a "great sign" of how far they have progressed.
"We've bowled teams out consistently. Even though we don't have four or five seamers all around 145kph, we have a variety of seamers, who can bowl really well together with Imran Tahir, who is a strike bowler in his own right," de Villiers said. "There's a very nice mix of control, pace, aggression and a bit of calmness, which makes it very nice for me to captain the side."
This is what de Villiers has to work with:
The certain one: Kagiso Rabada
The leading wicket-taker in the series against New Zealand, with the lowest average - eight scalps at 17.00 - Rabada is the leader of the pack. Although the man himself prefers to steer away from the spearhead label, he will be asked to set the tone and so will open the bowling more times than not. With pace, a mean bouncer and an economy rate that rarely goes over six, Rabada is South Africa's Mr Reliable and he could be for another decade. At 21, Rabada shows maturity beyond his years but still sees himself as one of the young 'uns, which suggests a readiness to learn and improve.
"It's a new attack with not much experience and it's nice that we are going through this together," Rabada said of his him and his colleagues. "Hopefully we all stay in the team and when other people coming in, we can teach them to learn quickly. We started together Australia and we beat them 5-0 and then we beat Sri Lanka. It hasn't been easy for the bowlers because pitches these days are really batsmen friendly but we learnt really quickly."
Parnell was used to open the bowling six times in the ten matches mentioned and made early inroads on four occasions. Apart from providing a different angle, Parnell also has pace and is often referred to as an x-factor player for his ability to put in explosive performances. Although Parnell is sometimes expensive at latter stages of the match, he has maintained an economy rate of under six this year and sits second on the list of ODI wicket-takers, behind Imran Tahir.
Newly nationally-contracted Morris was given the new ball five times in the ten matches and performed admirably. A hallmark of Morris' value upfront is how little he gives away, which makes him slightly different to Parnell. Morris has an economy rate of 4.88 when bowling in the first ten overs across the 10 matches, proof that the work he was doing on his accuracy is paying off. Morris has put in several handy performances with the bat as well, which adds to his credentials when South Africa pick their XI.
Pretorius only opened the bowling once, in the fourth ODI against Sri Lanka in Cape Town, and he bowled just one over. He is used more often at first change and in the middle overs, where his control allows Tahir to attack from the other end. Pretorius does not have a need for extreme speed - he is capable of reaching speeds in the upper 130kph - but rather concentrates on keeping things tight. Over the last two series, he has given away less than five runs an over.
Phehlukwayo is another 21-year-old showing impressive maturity and prefers the death overs where his slower balls and nerves of steel will serve South Africa well in years to come. Like Pretorius, pace is not high on Phehlukwayo's agenda but skills are. He has also proved himself a more than able finisher with bat in hand to ensure South Africa's allrounder cupboard is well stocked.
Neither of the two Test stalwarts were included in the ODI squads for the last two series but both remain in contention for a Champions Trophy spot. Philander, who has recovered from a slight ankle impingement, has not played one-day cricket for South Africa since 2015 but conditions in England will suit his nagging style and could make him an ideal new-ball candidate. Or South Africa may look to Morkel, who is expected to make a comeback in the upcoming Test series after nine months out of action with a back injury, and can generate fearsome bounce. Both have more experience than any of the rest and both played some List A cricket before making the trip to New Zealand. With only three ODIs against England before the Champions Trophy, and a handful of List A games this season, they may not have enough game time to be included but if they are, it will give de Villiers more firepower than he may know what to do with.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent