England v South Africa: ODI series crucial to Champions Trophy bid
Last Updated: 24/05/17 2:01pm
Captain Eoin Morgan says England can topple South Africa and go on to win the ICC Champions Trophy if they focus on their "unbelievable" talent.
Morgan will lead England in the first of three Royal London ODIs against the Proteas on Wednesday, his squad reinforced by the return of Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes and Jos Buttler from successful spells in the Indian Premier League.
Buttler leads the way ahead of Sam Billings and Jonny Bairstow in a three-way scrap for the wicket-keeper's gloves and Morgan said England's strength in depth makes them a genuine force to be reckoned with this summer.
"We've had dilemmas over the last couple of years but certainly having everybody fit and raring to go does give us a luxury in selection," said Morgan, after England's training session at Headingley. "We can pick two or three changes from our 15. It's a very good position to be in.
"I've said it for the last six months - the talent we have within the squad has been unbelievable.
"We've come close to fulfilling our potential throughout the couple of years we've been together but we've a lot of hard work to go in order to strive to be contenders for the 2019 World Cup.
"Playing South Africa now is great preparation [for the Champions Trophy]. They're a very strong team and a hard team to beat. What we've done well is focus on ourselves and our strengths, particularly at home. That will be no difference into the lead-up to the Champions Trophy.
"There's a huge benefit to having three match-winners come back into our team having watched them contribute so much in the IPL.
"Ben Stokes came back from the tournament as MVP - it's great to see him performing against the very best in what is the biggest domestic tournament in the world.
"Jos is one of the best players in the world as well and Chris has been an important part of KKR's road to the final stages - so it's a huge boost to have them back in the side."
Morgan offered his thoughts and prayers on behalf of England to the victims and the families of those killed in Monday's Manchester bomb attack.
With Manchester set to host games in this summer's ICC Champions Trophy and Women's World Cup, the International Cricket Council has stressed that safety remains its highest priority and that it is working closely with the relevant authorities.
"On behalf of the England cricket team I'd like to offer our thoughts and prayers to everybody in Manchester affected by the tragic events of last night," he said.
"I'd also like to give our support to those in and around things and those most affected and those who helped out last night and continue to help out today and throughout the future.
"I'm confident that we will crack on [with the Champions Trophy and ODI series against South Africa]. It certainly does put things in perspective for everyone in the country and around the world. When it happens so close to home it hits you a little bit harder. It emphasises life is short and can be taken away at any stage."
South Africa, who beat England 3-2 on home soil in a dramatic series in early 2016, are currently top the ODI rankings after a record-equalling sequence of 12 ODI wins in a row from September through to February.
In captain AB de Villiers and leg-spinner Imran Tahir they have the number one ODI batsman and bowler in their ranks - and a wealth of attacking talent to pick from, including a power-packed top order featuring Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis and an array of seam options.
Amla believes South Africa's blend of youth and experience can be a determining factor in the series.
"This ODI series comes at a good time, it's before the Champions Trophy and it will be great preparation for both teams," said the 34-year-old.
"England are a good team, very well balanced, so it will be a good challenge to hone down our skills so we can start the tournament on a good note.
"We have a very good balance in the team. There are a few of us who have been around for a few years. A few exciting youngsters like Quinton de Kock, Kagiso Rabada and Wayne Parnell. We have a very good mix, hopefully we can all put it together in this series and the Champions Trophy."
Reflecting on last year's ODI series between the two, Amla added: "We played them not so long ago in South Africa and we know they have a long batting line-up with quite a few different bowling options.
"We have had good series against them and because of their competitive nature, the way they have been playing and the way that we have been playing, I think it's going to be a good series."
Skipper De Villiers - seemingly recovered from the illness that kept him out of both of the tourists' warm-up fixtures - told Sky Sports News that his team haven't come up with a special plan to contain Stokes, who smashed 258 against South Africa at Cape Town in January 2016.
"It's similar to what we have planned for the other players as well; there are quite a few of them in the team - Jos Buttler, Jason Roy, Joe Root - who are really good players.
"They bat quite deep as well, so there are a lot of guys to cover. We did our analysis yesterday 3-5 minutes per player and it was pretty similar for Stokesy."
England squad: Eoin Morgan(c), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Sam Billings, Jos Buttler, Alex Hales, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, David Willey, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood.
South Africa squad: Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers (c), Jean-Paul Duminy, David Miller, Chris Morris, Wayne Parnell, Andile Phehlukwayo, Kagiso Rabada, Imran Tahir, Dwaine Pretorius, Keshav Maharaj, Farhaan Behardien, Morne Morkel.
Watch the first one-day international between England and South Africa live on Sky Sports 2 from 1.30pm on Wednesday.