PERTH  -  South Africa have had the better record of the two teams of late, but will have their task cut out against a team desperate to change their fortunes.

Australia have not been doing well in one-day international cricket. They have been beleaguered by off-field issues for the best part of the year, and on the field, in 50-over cricket, it’s been nine losses and just the solitary win in 10 games this year.

That all the defeats – and the win – have come against England is important. England are the No.1 side in the MRF Tyres ICC Men’s ODI Team Rankings and very, very tough to beat. On evidence, too tough, at the moment, for Australia.

South Africa, who are in Australia for a short limited-overs tour, might have the better record for the year with seven wins and the same number of losses, and are coming into the series on the back of wins by 3-2 in Sri Lanka and 3-0 against Zimbabwe at home, but they have struggled too. Indeed, when India played them in their backyard earlier in the year in their only other ODI engagement, the visiting side – ranked No.2 in the world – won 5-1.

Picking favourites under the circumstances is tough. Evening the scales out even more is the fact that while Australia are learning to cope without David Warner and Steve Smith, South Africa are also one AB de Villiers short. These transitions aren’t easy.

“Both teams are highly competitive and do everything that they can to win,” said Dale Steyn of the contest that awaits both sides over three games, and he’s absolutely bang on. A look at the two line-ups also confirm the same.

For the home side, the batting department is fronted by new captain Aaron Finch, Chris Lynn, D’Arcy Short, Glenn Maxwell and their like, while they have their first-choice pace attack back: Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins are an outstanding unit, capable of trumping the best.

On the other side, Faf du Plessis, Quinton de Kock, Reeza Hendricks, Aiden Markram and David Miller form a fearsome batting unit too, while the fast men are Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ndigi and Steyn, not to forget the backup-act of Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius and Chris Morris.

So very little to choose there, and if the Australians have the home advantage – though their only previous game at the new Perth Stadium ended in a 12-run loss earlier this year – the South Africans have the stronger lead spinner: Imran Tahir is one of the best in the world, while Adam Zampa is some way off right now.

This should be a riveting contest, with South Africa hoping to add to Australia’s concerns and the Australians looking to get their act together after a year of unfortunate events. 

Finch is ranked No15 in the world, the highest among the Australians in the current set-up, and has turned a corner recently in his career.

The initiation to Test cricket went well, and he has scored well across formats till a poor Twenty20 International run in the UAE last month. But he will back himself to do what he does best, give Australia a blazing start.

Ranked No.6 in the world, Rabada is one of the best in the business and a star of the modern game. He’s got it all in his arsenal and will be raring to go against one of his favourite oppositions. This could be a contest between the fast men of the two sides, and South Africa will hope Rabada gives them the edge on that front.

It’s been mostly sunny with a few scattered clouds in Perth, and should make for a lovely day of cricket. In the only ODI played at the new venue, neither team lasted their full 50 overs, but there were enough 30s and 40s – and Marcus Stoinis’ 87 – to suggest batting isn’t too tough. And while fast bowlers picked up 13 wickets then, the spinners held their own, all of them keeping things tight and getting among the wickets.

SQUADS:

AUSTRALIA: Aaron Finch (c), Alex Carey (wk), Josh Hazlewood, Ashton Agar, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Pat Cummins, Travis Head, Chris Lynn, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, D’Arcy Short, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, Adam Zampa

SOUTH AFRICA: Faf du Plessis (c), Farhaan Behardien, Quinton de Kock (wk), Reeza Hendricks, Imran Tahir, Heinrich Klaasen, Aiden Markram, David Miller, Chris Morris, Lungi Ngidi, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Dale Steyn.