England's huge improvement in one-day international (ODI) cricket has been praised by South African skipper AB De Villiers, ahead of the three-match series between the two sides.
With next month's ICC Champions Trophy matches looming, the series will be a keenly contested one between two of the favourites, with De Villiers himself currently ranked by the ICC as the best batsman in the ODI format and holder of the record for the fastest century at just 31 balls.
Speaking in the press conference about England, he noted just how positive the transformation of the home side's 50-over cricket has been since they crashed out of the 2015 World Cup in the group stage, remarking: "They are a really talented group of players - the way they came back from that earned a lot of respect around the world.
"They must be one of the favourites [for the Champions Trophy], in their home country and playing some really good cricket of late."
De Villiers singled out Ben Stokes as the man to watch, with the all-rounder producing some superb performances in the Indian Premier League (IPL) this year.
"He (Stokes) is a fantastic cricketer with bat and ball. He definitely has got something special about him. He had a really good IPL and is a stand out player for them," De Villiers said.
The first of the three matches between the two sides will be at Headingley next Wednesday (May 24th), followed by clashes at the Ageas Bowl and Lord's. It will mark a step-up in quality for England, who enjoyed two straightforward victories earlier this month against an Ireland side deep in transition and focused more on their bid to gain Test status.
While Ireland hope to be playing Test cricket soon, De Villiers will not be doing so this summer. He has said he needs a break from the game to recharge his batteries, but insisted he has not retired from the longest format of the game.
This will place more emphasis on the batting form of Hashim Amla, who like De Villiers made his Test debut against England at Durban in 2004. Amla is currently ninth in the ICC Test rankings, two places higher than De Villiers, although their leading batsman is Quinton de Kock, who is placed sixth in both the Test and ODI batting rankings. De Kock, who also keeps wicket, will be opening the batting in the ODIs and will be a key player for the South Africans.
As well as De Villiers and De Kock, the South African ODI team can look to Francois du Plessis, who is ranked fifth in the batting rankings, while in the bowling, Kagiso Rabada is fifth. With the veteran Dale Steyn missing the Tests series with injury, the emergence of Rabada as an outstanding pace bowler in all formats of the game has been very timely.
With plenty of quality in the South African team, this will be the perfect opportunity for Stokes and his team-mates to show just how far they have come before the ICC Champions Trophy.