South Africa vs England: James Taylor set to lose out as tourists turn to ODI action

In-form batsman will lose his place unless Jason Roy is ruled out with the back injury that has troubled him

Such has been the pace of England’s rapid progression in one-day cricket over the past eight months that James Taylor, the team’s in-form batsman, is likely to find himself surplus to requirements for the start of the series against South Africa which starts on Wednesday.

Taylor has played in the last nine one-day internationals, averaging 56.42 across series against Australia and Pakistan. The Nottinghamshire batsman also scored a century during England’s warm-up victory against South Africa A in Kimberley last Saturday.

However, with Joe Root and Ben Stokes returning for the first ODI, Taylor will lose his place unless Jason Roy is ruled out with the back injury that has troubled him.

Roy missed nets on Monday after suffering a back spasm during fielding drills at Mangaung Park. Yet the Surrey opener looked untroubled here, and with his recovery chances rated at 70 per cent ahead of a final fitness test this morning, the signs do not look good for Taylor. 

If Roy does miss out, England’s captain, Eoin Morgan, suggested Root would move up from No 3 to partner Alex Hales at the top of the order. That would allow Taylor to slot in at three, where he scored his maiden ODI hundred last summer against Australia – a series Root was rested for.

Taylor also performed well in the 3-1 series win over Pakistan in the UAE last year after moving down to No 5.

Stokes missed that series after the Durham all-rounder sustained a shoulder injury in the final Test against Pakistan in Sharjah. 

With Root and Stokes, who was unveiled as the cover star for this year’s Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, back for the first time since the early-summer ODI defeat of New Zealand that started England’s revival in this format, Taylor’s prospects of playing in any of the five matches against South Africa are remote.

For Morgan it is a sign of how far his team have come since the embarrassment of last winter’s first-round exit from the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

“It makes me proud of the squad when guys continue to score runs even though they may not be in the hunt of gaining a place in the side,” he said. “More often than not it happens in successful sides. If James does play, he will be in great nick. If he doesn’t, it just means he is next in. We don’t know our best XI yet and I think that is really exciting.” 

Jos Buttler is one player who would be in most countries’ best one-day sides. The wicketkeeper has lost his Test place to Jonny Bairstow, but he is among the most exciting limited-overs batsmen in the world, behind only South Africa’s AB de Villiers.

At 25, Buttler is six years De Villiers’ junior. But he showed he is a player who just keeps getting better in this format when scoring a 46-ball century against Pakistan in Dubai last November.

It might not have been as spectacular as De Villiers’ 31-ball world record against the West Indies last year, but it was the best by an Englishman. In fact, Buttler has hit the three fastest one-day hundreds by an England batsman, all of them scored in the past 19 months.

“Jos’s potential is extremely exciting,” said Morgan. “Training with him every day is, I assume, like training with AB de Villiers. He is always looking to learn and improve on his shots. 

“One thing for him, I know he strives to improve on, is his consistency. On his best day he can win a game for us but on his half-good day he still wants to win for us. The more he plays, the more he can improve on that.”

De Villiers is in agreement about Buttler’s ability. “He definitely paces his innings in a similar kind of way to how I like to,” said South Africa’s captain. “He’s a serious player.” 

So is Taylor, but the serious competition within this young, emerging squad means even players in red-hot form cannot be guaranteed a game. It’s a good place for Morgan and England to be.

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