The second leg of South Africa's English summer is set for a battling finish at Trent Bridge where Alastair Cook and AB de Villiers' men will square off for the final ODI that has a series win on offer for England and a chance to share the NatWest Trophy for South Africa.
Ian Bell's 137-ball 88 and offspinner James Tredwell's 3 for 35 ensured England go into the decisive ODI with an unassailable 2-1 lead, but in most likelihood without the consistent Jonathan Trott. Trott, who scored 71 at The Oval and 48 at Lord's, is a doubtful started at Trent Bridge due to the hand injury sustained against Dale Steyn on Sunday, even though x-rays have ruled out a fracture. He has been the stabilising force behind England's two wins and forged decisive partnership with Eoin Morgan and Bell.
Trott's consistency has also shielded Cook's cold response to the South African pace battery, which has restricted the hosts' opening partnerships in the last three ODIs to 0, 14 and 2. England have recalled the Somerset wicketkeeper-batsman Jos Buttler as cover for Trott, but he is highly unlikely to play with the in-form Jonny Bairstow rubbing his hands for such an opportunity. England, who are now ensured to go into 2013 as the No. 1 ODI team, are unlikely to drop Ravi Bopara as he made up for his batting failure with a useful 2 for 34 at Lord's.
South Africa's problems surprisingly, and not so surprisingly, revolve around their batting. No batsman has posted a half-century in the last two games since the run-fest led by Hashim Amla's 150 in Southampton. Other than openers Amla and Graeme Smith, none of the batsmen, including de Villiers, has been able to deliver. The resultant loss of momentum in the middle of the innings has cost South Africa two losses and a chance to win the series.
The absence of Jacques Kallis, rested for the series, has left a gaping hole in the visitors' batting line-up. The idea to bring back the world's best allrounder fresh into the World Twenty20 is also giving South Africa a view of life without Kallis, but de Villiers isn't taking that as an excuse. "When you have inexperience in your team, you need the senior players to take control, including myself. Getting out for 20s and 30s isn't good enough at this level; it's as simple as that," he had said after the Lord's defeat.
There are no such glaring issues with the South African bowling, but it won't be a surprise if they chose to bring in one of the Morkel brothers in place of Ryan McLaren, with allrounder Albie adding meat to batting and Morne an extra edge to bowling.
England: 1 Alastair Cook (capt), 2 Ian Bell, 3 Jonathan Trott/Jonny Bairstow, 4 Ravi Bopara, 5 Eoin Morgan, 6 Craig Kieswetter (wk), 7 Samit Patel, 8 James Tredwell, 9 James Anderson, 10 Steven Finn, 11 Jade Dernbach
South Africa: 1 Graeme Smith, 2 Hashim Amla, 3 Dean Elgar, 4 AB de Villiers (capt/wk), 5 JP Duminy, 6 Faf du Plessis, 7 Ryan McLaren/Albie Morkel, 8 Wayne Parnell, 9 Robin Peterson, 10 Dale Steyn, 11 Lonwabo Tsotsobe