Cape Town - Unless on-day conditions
suddenly cause a policy switch at Centurion on Wednesday, South Africa seem
determined to stick to their “seven batsmen” principle for the first Test
against West Indies there.
Noises from key figures like coach Russell
Domingo in the lead-up suggest not only that labouring opening batsman Alviro
Petersen is going to hold onto his spot, but also that left-hander Stiaan van
Zyl will make his debut in a slightly unfamiliar stationing for him outside of
the top order.
It is highly unlikely that any of the five
remaining settled - or extremely settled - incumbent batsmen are going to be
chopped from the XI, meaning there is every chance the top seven will thus
read: Petersen, Dean Elgar, Faf du Plessis, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers,
Quinton de Kock and Van Zyl.
The only remaining issue under those
circumstances would be the make-up of a four-man Proteas attack, and another
possible giveaway in that regard was left-arm spinner Robin Peterson talking
this week at a media briefing of playing a holding role if selected.
That indicates that the brains trust wish
to put their faith in the “old faithful” seam trio of Dale Steyn, Vernon
Philander and Morne Morkel, with Peterson occupying the No 8 position in the
batting order and being tasked with keeping things tight from one end while the
striking is largely done in rotating doses by the faster men.
The big difference, if that is the brew
opted for, is that captain Amla will not have the luxury here of a genuine
fifth element in the bowling arsenal.
Less than a year ago, South Africa would
have been able to summon some efficient overs from either - and more often than
not both - of Jacques Kallis and JP Duminy, but the former retired after the
Boxing Day Test against India and the latter is in rehab from injury and
unlikely to play any role in the Windies series.
Kallis, of course, was part of the Test
furniture for some 18 years and there were stages during his stellar all-round
career that the national team could also rely on some disciplined medium-pace
fare from another core batsman, Hansie Cronje.
So should the Proteas put out the
aforementioned XI that seems fairly likely at SuperSport Park, they would be in
a bit of a pickle if one of their frontliners experienced some physical mishap:
they would be down to three bowlers, with only some essentially part-time spin
from Elgar (first-class bowling average 53.56) to supplement the all-important
quest for 20 wickets.
There is always the chance that, if a
particularly green tinge is noticed on the strip on Wednesday, South Africa
will go all-pace, with one of Kyle Abbott (presumably the rightful next in
line?) or the raw Kagiso Rabada introduced in place of Peterson and then Elgar
tasked with providing very occasional spin variety.
Weather forecasts suggest at least a chance
of rain on all of the first four days of the first Test, so with regular cloud
cover and dampness, a four-pronged speed assault could work against the
moderate, eighth-ranked visitors.
But there are also times, especially as a
Test grinds on, when a spinner becomes absolutely essential and not playing one
of any proven calibre can backfire horribly.
My gut feel remains that the three members
of the Proteas’ Test squad of 14 not to get a game at Centurion will be Rabada,
Temba Bavuma and Abbott.
At least for the present, South Africa will
believe they shouldn’t fix a formula that ain’t especially “broke” ...
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