South Africa's experimentation policy under Kirsten In ODIs hasn't worked as well as they would have liked. © Getty Images

Since Gary Kirsten took over as South African coach in June 2011, the country’s Test team has risen relentlessly to the top of the ICC Test rankings. But performances at the One-Day International arena ha been patchy, at best.

The five-match ODI series against Pakistan, starting at Chevrolet Park in Bloemfontein on Sunday (March 10), will mark a change of focus for South Africa, who have slipped to fourth place in the ODI rankings, while their opponents Pakistan are ranked sixth.

With South Africa said to play as many as 20 ODIs before their next Test series, also against Pakistan, in the United Arab Emirates in October-November this year, Kirsten understands the importance of stabilising the ODI set up.

“It’s nice to have an extended period of One-Day Internationals,” he said. “This is an important period for the ODI team.”

Of immediate concern for South Africa is the ICC Champions Trophy in England in June, the team’s next major engagement after the Pakistan series. Their consistent failure to win big tournaments is one of the issues that Kirsten has pledged to address.

Although South Africa have a less than stellar ODI record of 10 wins and 8 losses under Kirsten, he didn’t seem overly concerned. “We have had a lot of Test cricket,” he said. Nor was he concerned about a lop-sided 95-run defeat in a Twenty20 International at Centurion last Sunday (Match 3), which he dismissed as a “one-off” game, irrelevant to the ODI challenge.

South Africa were beaten 2-1 at home by New Zealand in their most recent ODI series after winning both Tests against an inexperienced side by an innings.

Pakistan shape up as a bigger threat with players such as Shoaib Malik, Shahid Afridi and the Akmal brothers, Kamran and Umar — all of whom missed their side’s recent 3-0 Test series defeat — adding experience and skill to the squad.

The Pakistanis seem to have most of their bases covered, with a mix of quick-scoring batsmen and a well-balanced bowling attack, while the fielding in the Twenty20 match was of a high standard.

South Africa, though, are likely to be a more organised team than the one that lost to New Zealand — and a great deal stronger than the T20I side — with players such as Hashim Amla, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Graeme Smith returning to the squad.

Steyn will be rested for the first match, though, and Morkel is doubtful because of a hamstring injury. Jacques Kallis will not be in action as he is being rested as part of a programme to manage his workload and extend his career.

Teams (from):
South Africa: AB de Villiers (capt/wkt), Kyle Abbott, Hashim Amla, Farhaan Behardien, Faf du Plessis, Colin Ingram, Rory Kleinveldt, Ryan McLaren, David Miller, Morne Morkel, Robin Peterson, Aaron Phangiso, Graeme Smith, Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe

Pakistan: Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), Mohammad Hafeez, Nasir Jamshed, Asad Shafiq, Younis Khan, Shoaib Malik, Kamran Akmal (wkt), Umar Akmal, Shahid Afridi, Saeed Ajmal, Mohammad Irfan, Junaid Khan, Wahab Riaz, Umar Gul, Imran Farhat, Abdur Rehman.