Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - The pegs seem to be starting
to fit into the holes as South Africa prepare for the first Test against
Australia at Newlands here from next Wednesday.
All the current smoke signals from the
Proteas camp appear to suggest that – unless there are sudden favourable
developments -- staple middle-order batting kingpin AB de Villiers is fighting
an uphill battle to be fit for the mini-series opener, and instead more
realistically targeting the second encounter at the Wanderers.
And under those circumstances, given the
fairly bowler-heavy composition of the 14-man South African squad, the batting
line-up for the first Test is pretty obvious, considering that there is no way
they will enter the Test with wicketkeeper Mark Boucher batting any higher than
his trademark No 7 in the five-day format.
Thus, with all available batting resources in
the party taken into account, the top six will look like this: Graeme Smith
(capt), Jacques Rudolph, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, Ashwell Prince and JP
Whcih way around Prince and Duminy bat may
depend on the extent and tempo of the platform laid by the men above them, as
Prince has a reputation as a slightly more grafting customer than his fellow
left-hander and is likelier to be more assured of No 5 (a favoured and
traditionally successful position for him) if there is some element of
consolidation required when he takes guard.
As many as nine of the 34-year-old’s 11 Test
centuries have come from the five berth, which ought to be enough to earn him
the nod there.
Duminy, however, may well be a better bet
to bat one rung lower than No 4 anchorman Kallis if there is already the luxury
of a blossoming score on the board and getting a “crack on” is the greater
priority at the time.
Whatever the case, the match may well serve
as a shoot-out between these two for who retains a place at the Bullring if De
Villiers returns to the mix then.
The make-up of the four-man specialist attack,
under the assumption that Kallis will be the occasional but still important
fifth bowling option, is a little more tricky to predict.
South Africa traditionally take
conservative options with greater zeal – rightly or wrongly – so it may not be
quite the fait accompli many people think it is for the Proteas to prefer
attacking leg-spinner Imran Tahir to the left-arm “strangler” Paul Harris.
My own wish, most certainly, is that Tahir
gets a Test debut at a venue which should suit his craft, although that
ever-determined customer Harris, who knows his limitations and doggedly grapples
them, still has a Test future – especially on the Subcontinent, where he could
be an appropriate, containing foil for someone like Tahir if the Lahore-born
leggie does shine as a Test player and conditions warrant the presence of two
specialist slow bowlers.
For the looming Newlands Test, I rather
like the idea of the Proteas fielding Tahir as a further strike option to Dale
Steyn and Morne Morkel, with one of Lonwabo Tsotsobe or Vernon Philander then
to be the busily-engaged “stock” seamer, Kallis to help out at times and Duminy
to turn a few balls the other way to Tahir if necessary.
Harris has picked up some decent hauls at
Newlands in the past, especially when the south-easter has been around to give
him some drift, although early summer has been marked here thus far by
surprisingly low doses of the whistling Cape Doctor.
Counting against him, I feel, was his
ineffectiveness as a wicket-taker when the Proteas could not win the last Test
they played, at the very same venue against India last season: the visitors
easily held out for a draw and 1-1 share of the series batting last, when
Harris bowled 30 overs for only 29 runs but could not get a single success in
the wickets column.
His match haul was one for 101 in 59 slightly
“nod off” overs ... dare South Africa risk such a negative repeat against the
The Philander v Tsotsobe poser is a
neck-and-neck one: the latter is the Test incumbent, and offers much-trumpeted left-arm
variety even if not at blistering pace, while the former has been a really
standout SuperSport Series seamer for two or three seasons and would offer the
iffy Proteas tail slightly less of a “bunny” look to it if he occupied No 8
behind Boucher rather than Steyn, who could then use the long handle under a
bit less pressure at nine.
personal choice leans fractionally toward Philander as first-change on his home
ground – how he fares in the current match between SA ‘A’ and the Aussies at
Potchefstroom could affect selection -- although I have a feeling the Proteas’
wise men are going to do the “continuity” thing and retain faith for the time
being in the lanky Tsotsobe.
The XI would then probably look like this
next Wednesday morning: Smith (c), Rudolph, Amla, Kallis, Prince, Duminy,
Boucher, Steyn, Morkel, Tsotsobe, Tahir.