Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
SA 'gloves' future on hold
Cape Town - The continued absence of any young wicketkeeper in South Africa’s latest squads across all three cricketing codes is a key feature of Wednesday’s announcement of personnel for the New Zealand tour next month.
It seems to add up to one thing: veteran Mark Boucher
, unless he has an unlikely, genuine shocker with both gloves and bat in the Land of the Long White Cloud, will stay in his Test role for the premier challenge of 2012 – the visit later in the year to ICC top-ranked England.
Instead of effectively pressuring the incumbent by drafting another gloveman into the 15-strong Test party to tackle the Black Caps, Andrew Hudson’s selection panel resisted the desire to do so, with vice-captain AB de Villiers clearly entrusted with the role of back-up if required.
It is hard to envisage the likelihood of the wise men suddenly dropping a bomb by asking blue-chip batsman De Villiers to expand his wicketkeeping duties to the five-day arena.
If they were going to do that then presumably 35-year-old Bouch
er would not have been given a tour ticket at all, and a Dane Vilas, Quinton de Kock, Thami Tsolekile
or Daryn Smit thus having a better chance of a tour look-in.
Instead the Cape Cobras player, who is expected to play a rare SuperSport Series game against the Titans at Paarl from Thursday as he seeks to regain finest form, now seems a fairly safe bet for retaining his responsibility right through to the England mission.
Ironically he serves as a great example of why it is not a good idea to suddenly field an inexperienced ‘keeper in England, where seaming and swerving conditions can be near-unique: he was still a relative Test rookie on his maiden Proteas tour there in 1998 and made some key errors.
But the fact that he is made of stern stuff is hardly in dispute and he has been infinitely better on every subsequent tour there - including playing a precious role with the bat, alongside captain Graeme Smith
, in the series-deciding victory at Edgbaston in 2008 from an iffy position.
The selectors can even be said to have gone “backwards” for the time being on the issue of new glovemen, because Heino Kuhn, who performed that role in South Africa’s last Twenty20 international - against Australia at the Wanderers much earlier this season - has not been included in the 14-strong party for that portion of the Kiwi assignment.
De Villiers, the Proteas’ captain across both one-day formats now, is very much the only wicketkeeper in those two squads.
It is on the T20 side of things where the selectors have shaken the bag the most, it seems: all of Kuhn, David Miller and long-serving opening batsman Smith have been sacrificed since the Proteas’ last game in the code at the Bullring.
They appear to have sidelined Smith quietly - or at least tried to - as the press release accompanying all three squads on Wednesday makes mention only of “two stalwarts, Jacques Kallis
and Dale Steyn
, (being) rested for the T20 series but playing in the other two formats”.
It also pointedly described Richard Levi’s selection, as expected, as “the pairing of (Levi) as Hashim Amla’s opening partner in the T20 squad”.
Mind you, it is unlikely the much-travelled, significantly burdened “Biff” will have shed too many tears over his T20 cold shoulder: he is likely just to be grateful to have retained his place in the ODI squad after a welcome burst of personal productivity with the bat in the last two fixtures against Sri Lanka.
Generally speaking, there are probably few reasons to quibble with the various choices of Hudson’s panel - the Test squad, especially, was largely predictable although there appears to be confirmation of the genuine fall from favour of Paul Harris
in the spin department.
Once the regular main spinner, the containing left-armer was first pushed aside for Imran Tahir
in home Tests this summer and now cannot even command “second spot” in a broader tour party as Robin Peterson
is afforded that opportunity.
Perhaps some people forget that in his last of six Test matches thus far, against Bangladesh at Chittagong in 2008, Peterson grabbed a five-for in the home team’s second innings?
The inclusion of Justin Ontong in both the ODI and T20 squads is to be welcomed: he has been one of the standout players in broadest terms in the South African domestic season and several good judges have pointed to a far steelier mental make-up by the versatile Cobras player.
Now comes his chance to confirm it, at a level where he has never fully convinced in sporadic opportunities before ...*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing