Rob Houwing: Proteas leave little room for secrets
Cape Town - They have curtailed their squad to 13 players, which helps, but it is also pretty clear what South Africa’s XI is intended to be when they start the Test series against Pakistan at Centurion on Boxing Day.
Assuming no injury or other unforeseen hiccups in the interim period, the Proteas will go in with a line-up the tourists can do plenty of diligent homework on, if they wish, in the lead-up.
That’s not a criticism, either: the national selectors have tended to be admirably consistent when it comes to the Test side, even offering a liberal sense of pardon in this instance for the wobble (OK, a bit more than that) in the winter series in Sri Lanka.
Faf du Plessis and company were beaten 2-0 then, by the respective heavy margins of 199 and 278 runs and with the batting department especially feeble.
But conditions there are also light years removed from those likely to be experienced on our shores over the next few weeks - it’s a three-Test series - and Linda Zondi’s panel clearly feel that a return to the strongholds of home should see altogether better service displayed against the Pakistanis, who are yet to win a series in South Africa after five prior cracks.
Although novice Cape Cobras batsman Zubayr Hamza, 23, and already five-cap paceman Duanne Olivier also feature in the SA squad for the series named on Thursday, it is difficult to envisage either playing at SuperSport Park.
Instead, the Proteas’ XI is likely to differ in only one respect from the side which lost the second Sri Lankan Test in Colombo, with Vernon Philander - left out of that game after playing the first match - returning in place of the currently injured Lungi Ngidi.
The batting arsenal (or read: top seven) will be wholly unaltered, especially as relative fringe customer at the time Theunis de Bruyn came to light superbly at No 3 with a fourth-innings maiden century in his sixth Test under trying circumstances in the Colombo reverse.
So it doesn’t take a nuclear physicist to work out that the frontline batting will be: Markram, Elgar, De Bruyn (who may also provide some disciplined medium-pace fare if required), Amla, Du Plessis, Bavuma and De Kock.
South Africa’s four-strong specialist attack, then, will be comprised of Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Philander and Keshav Maharaj.
By picking just one spinner in the 13-strong squad, Maharaj, the selectors have made it abundantly clear that they expect pace to overwhelmingly do the trick for them throughout the Pakistani series.
That is understandable, based on modern, usually winning home trends and desires by the Proteas against visiting teams from Asia, although it may be worth adding a note of caution on that topic.
Now that JP Duminy no longer plays Test cricket, there is no significant second “tweaking” option in the ranks and some, increasingly tiring South African pitches are gripping and turning a bit more than is considered desirable.
That hallmark certainly includes SuperSport Park, where former Proteas left-arm spin stalwart Paul Harris had reason to jokingly remark in SABC television commentary during an Mzansi Super League match earlier this week - where Tshwane Spartans beat Paarl Rocks - that he was tempted to come out of retirement.
Both leg-spinner Shaun von Berg of the Spartans (3/27) and the Rocks’ unorthodox Tabraiz Shamsi (3/18) revelled in helpful conditions to their trade.
It could mean that Maharaj is a busy man during the first Test, and he hasn’t bowled in much multi-day cricket of late.
For the record, he has also gone wicketless in five MSL matches in a row although that shouldn’t be causing too many sleepless nights for the rising connoisseur of the Test landscape.
The squad inclusion of youthful Hamza, even if he doesn’t actually get capped for a while yet, is to be welcomed.
He has come through the logical progression of promise at both SA ‘A’ and domestic first-class level, and gently-blooded new faces are necessary at a time when the likes of batting staple figures Hashim Amla (not far off 36) and Du Plessis (34) can’t be far off making major decisions, as they say, about their careers ...
Proteas Test squad:
Faf du Plessis (Titans, captain), Hashim Amla (Cape Cobras), Temba Bavuma (Highveld Lions), Theunis de Bruyn (Titans), Quinton de Kock (Titans), Dean Elgar (Titans), Zubayr Hamza (Cape Cobras), Keshav Maharaj (Dolphins), Aiden Markram (Titans), Duanne Olivier (Knights), Vernon Philander (Cape Cobras), Kagiso Rabada (Highveld Lions), Dale Steyn (Titans)
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