The ICC World Twenty20 title has eluded South Africa and Australia in its seven-year existence with both teams yet to lift the trophy in five attempts.
Australia have come closest, losing the 2010 final to England in Barbados, while the Proteas’ best finish was a semi-final defeat to eventual winners Pakistan at Nottingham’s Trent Bridge the previous year.
With this year’s edition in Bangladesh less than a month away, both teams will be using this three-match series to fine-tune their game plans and strategies, while also giving fringe players within their World T20 squads final opportunities to stake claims for regular places in the starting line-ups when the party officially starts.
Here we select some of the players to watch during the series.
Quinton de Kock (SA)
The Proteas wunderkind has lost some of his sparkle since his three consecutive ODI centuries against India last year with some below-par first-class performances for his franchise recently and a double failure on his Test debut. De Kock, though, has already shown that he is only inspired to work harder after a failure and he will enjoy a return to the shortest form of the game where he has the freedom to play in his naturally attacking way.
Aaron Finch (Aus)
David Warner was swinging from the hip in the preceding Test series, but he will now be joined by his equally dangerous opening partner Finch for the T20 leg of the tour. Finch is cut from the same cloth as Warner – attack first, think later – and is possibly even more dangerous as he has not refined his game for the longer formats. Centuries in both T20 and ODI cricket recently have confirmed the threat Finch poses to the Proteas in this series.
Albie Morkel (SA)
A surprise selection considering Morkel’s fate was seemingly sealed after yet another disappointing performance at the last World T20 in Sri Lanka two years ago. But consistent performances in the IPL and a stellar domestic RamSlam T20 for the Titans have seen the older of the Morkel brothers re-enter the thoughts of the national selectors as a “finisher”. A good series here will help to convince the doubters that Morkel is not past his sell-by date.
Shane Watson (Aus)
The all-rounder’s injury problems are well-documented and limited him to just the final Test at Newlands. But according to Watson, it was actually a blessing in disguise. The lay-off allowed him to ensure his physique was ready to carry both a batting and bowling load going forward. At the peak of his powers, the 32-year-old remains one of the most des-tructive hitters of a cricket ball. He will no doubt use this series to regain that powerful touch.
Glenn Maxwell (Aus)
The “Big Show”, as they like to call him in Australia, has made millions of dollars around the world through T20 cricket. Some believe there is more hype than substance to Maxwell, but through a couple of pyrotechnic displays with the bat in the home Australian summer, he has shown that he can back up all the big talk, too. A good performance in South Africa will set him up nicely for a full onslaught at the World T20.
Beuran Hendricks (SA)
The series may have lost some of its sparkle due to Dale Steyn and Mitchell Johnson’s withdrawals after their Test exertions, but the Proteas do possess a young tearaway itching to be unleashed at the highest level. The uncapped Hendricks has been the pace bowling sensation of the domestic summer, claiming 28 wickets – a new national record – in the RamSlam competition. The fact that Hendricks is a left-arm bowler adds a dimension to his skills repertoire that already consists of him bowling at 140km/h-plus, coupled with a good in-swinger to the right-hander while also being able to deliver various slower balls.
Imran Tahir (SA)
Mystery spinners are the rage in the world right now, especially in T20, where the likes of Sunil Narine, Saeed Ajmal and Ajantha Mendis are considered quintessential for success. South Africa do not possess one of these “magic men”, but in Tahir they do have a classic wicket-taking leg-spinner armed with a vicious googly. The much-travelled Pakistan-born tweaker may have had his limitations exposed at Test level, but in limited-overs cricket his striking ability is unquestioned.
Mitchell Starc (Aus)
He is the somewhat forgotten man of Australia’s rich pace reserves, considering he started the Ashes series in England last year. Starc, though, remains a danger with his left-arm deliveries bowled at good pace. He will be desperate to show that he remains an option in other forms of the game too, and cannot yet be defined as a limited-overs specialist.
Faf du Plessis (capt), Hashim Amla, Farhaan Behardien, Quinton de Kock, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Beuran Hendricks, Imran Tahir, David Miller, Albie Morkel, Morné Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Aaron Phangiso, Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Kyle Abbott
George Bailey (capt), Dan Christian, Nathan Coulter-Nile, James Faulkner, Aaron Finch, Brad Haddin, Brad Hodge, Brad Hogg, Glenn Maxwell, James Muirhead, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, David Warner, Shane Watson, Cameron White
Tomorrow: 1st T20, St George’s Park, Port Elizabeth, 2.30pm
Wednesday: 2nd T20, Kingsmead, Durban, 6pm
Friday: 3rd T20, SuperSport Park, Centurion, 6pm - Saturday Star