Proteas in Australia
Adelaide debut likely for Faf
Faf du Plessis (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Whoever flies out from South Africa to reinforce the Proteas squad for the remainder of the Test series in Australia, his presence is likely to be a relatively nominal one -at least if there are no further injury mishaps.
Following the cruel, warm-down occurrence after day one of the first encounter at the Gabba, which saw middle-order batsman JP Duminy rupture an Achilles tendon and be sidelined for months, experts have been mustering a fairly broad array of names as the possible squad replacement.
Dean Elgar, Colin Ingram, Justin Ontong, and even the veterans Ashwell Prince and Neil McKenzie are among the suggestions mooted, and the choice is not especially straightforward given that the Sunfoil Series is in relative infancy domestically and a helpful form guide is not too readily available to Andrew Hudson and his co-selectors.
But if there is one comforting aspect for the South African camp, in the wake of the sudden absence of Duminy - most iconic figure of the historic 2-1 series win Down Under in 2008/09 - it is that a player already with the party shapes up as pretty logical stand-in for the second Test at Adelaide Oval from November 22.
Faf du Plessis, the 28-year-old from the Titans who usefully boasts eight years of first-class experience and 30 limited-overs international caps for his country, must be hot favourite to debut at five-day level there.
He is similar to Duminy in having a suitably attacking mindset at the crease, and even though No 7 is not his ideal station - he is more familiar with four or five - the same could really be said at franchise level of the man he is now likely to replace.
Just as importantly, though, the Affies product is a razor-sharp fielder and like the injured Cape Cobras favourite offers an extra spin option that is not to be sniffed at.
That would be especially valuable at the picturesque South Australian venue for the second Test, probably the most benign surface for the quicker bowlers in the series and one that makes a pretty well-stocked slow-bowling cupboard essential.
After the surprise decision to omit leg-spinner Imran Tahir from the Brisbane Test - the plan to compensate via Duminy’s off-spin lies in unintended tatters - South Africa will certainly rethink their strategy (regardless of how the current, rain-affected first Test turns out) for Adelaide.
You would think a rapid recall for Tahir is on the cards, and if a really raging turner seems in prospect there, Robin Peterson’s left-arm spin may also come into contention although it would be near-unthinkable for the Proteas to break up their Steyn-Philander-Morkel primary pace arsenal in order to accommodate a “two specialist spinners” scenario.
The convenient middle ground would be to field one specialist and one part-timer, with Du Plessis fitting the latter bill nicely enough.
He does have a tendency to bowl a few buffet balls (which leg-spinner doesn’t at times?) but his first-class record (41 scalps at 34.34) is reasonable enough to suggest he could do a job.
Tahir and Du Plessis in the same attack would not be ideal, given that both would be turning the ball away from right-handed batsmen and Duminy would obviously have been a better foil from a variety point of view. But it is also a lot better than a captain having just one spinner to call on, full-stop.
It is understood, meanwhile, that Eagles left-hander Dean Elgar is favourite to be the “fly out” man when the replacement is revealed on Sunday.
Elgar, 25, is much more of a top-order batsman than either Duminy or Du Plessis, so perhaps not greatly suited to “pushing on” further down the order, but he would be a credible enough presence for general insurance with the blade in the squad.
He, too, has an extra string to his bow in this his own left-arm spin isn’t the worst on planet earth.
Meanwhile, with a full day sadly lost at the Gabba on Saturday, a draw is already creeping quite strongly onto the cards for the first Test, unless the pitch suddenly demonstrates some new demons after sweating under the covers for a long time.
Only two wickets down (three effectively if you take the Duminy absence into account), and two days done and dusted, is hardly the platform for a positive outcome either way, although far stranger things have happened in Test cricket.
The Proteas will seek to bat with similar purpose and confidence to that displayed on the first day, and if they press on past the 400-mark - as they certainly should? - then South Africa ought to simultaneously ensure there can only be one winner, and their pace-heavy attack can steam in with relish and under no special pressure.
Happily for avid Test-watchers, including the bleary-eyed ones back home, weather prospects look rosier for the remainder of the Gabba Test.*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing