SA-Aus ODI series: Race for top spot begins

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> South Africa and Australia will be playing for the No. 1 ODI ranking when their five-match series begins on Friday at Kingsmead.

Updated: April 03, 2009 14:24 IST
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Durban (South Africa):

South Africa and Australia will be playing for the No. 1 ODI ranking when their five-match series begins on Friday at Kingsmead.

Australia - which has won the past three World Cups, including the 2003 edition in South Africa - relinquished top spot to the Proteas after losing 4-1 at home earlier this year.

But South Africa, despite not bringing its best form to World Cups, has maintained a high win rate with great fielding and bowling and a batting lineup stacked with talent like Herschelle Gibbs, AB de Villiers, Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and J P Duminy.

In Australia a couple of months ago, stand-in captain Johan Botha's off spinners and all-rounder Albie Morkel's big hitting took South Africa to a convincing ODI series win.

South Africa will have Smith back in the team after the captain had a finger broken by fast bowler Mitchell Johnson, who also broke a a finger on Smith's other hand during the second Test at Kingsmead last month.

"It's always good to get the opportunity to bowl with the new ball against an opening batsman like Smith. He's such a great player," Johnson said. "I'm looking forward to trying to get his wicket."

Smith averages 42.21 in 15 ODIs against Australia, but that rises to 61 with a top score of 119 not out against the same opponents in South Africa.

"I have traveled pretty much all around the world and faced all the world's fastest quicks. Mentally, it is just a case of preparing the right way," Smith said. "I have to think about how I am going to face these fast bowlers and how I am going to play them. That is the way I have always prepared in the past.

"Mitchell has been bowling really well. He is one of the best fast bowlers in the world at the moment and it will be a real challenge facing him. It is something I look forward to. We have had a really good battle over the last period of time, I have had a bit of success and he has had a bit of success, so we will see what happens."

Smith is happy that Kallis is recovering well from a groin injury and has a good chance of being fit for the second ODI on Sunday.

"He is coming through nicely," Smith said. "He is bowling in the nets and he has had a good batting session as well. From what I understand from the physio, he is progressing very nicely."

South Africa coach Mickey Arthur is upbeat after the Proteas' two Twenty20 victories over Australia on Friday and Sunday.

"There's a nice air around the squad," Arthur said. "The guys are very fresh and looking forward to it. We're getting a nice balance now. I'm very happy with the mix we have now.

Within our squad, we have two recognised spinners and we have J P Duminy, who can bowl for us as well, so we're starting to get quite a nice mix in terms of variation in our attack. And the return of Makhaya (Ntini) and Morne (Morkel) in our attack is really good because they give us variation of a different kind.

"It's always good to be in a dressing room that's winning - it's a good place to be - but we're not looking too much to that. Friday is where we want to put our marker in the sand, and that's why we've been building up hard this week. Friday, for us, is huge. We want to go 1-0 up, and hopefully take momentum from that."

Australia has won 37 of 72 ODIs against South Africa, losing 32 and tying three. At Kingsmead, the Australians have won three of five matches, including the past two in 2002 and '06.

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