Cape Town - A demanding Test debut for Beuran Hendricks at the Wanderers next week just moved a whole lot closer through Kagiso Rabada's latest disciplinary misdemeanour for the Proteas.
The left-arm seamer, who would automatically provide variety and a different angle to the pace attack, seems the most logical beneficiary of Rababa’s extremely costly one-Test ban by the International Cricket Council for the decisive fourth and final clash against England in the Bullring.
News broke on day two of the third Test at St George’s Park on Friday that Rabada, thanks to an animated celebration of English skipper Joe Root’s dismissal - right up in front of the batsman - on the first day’s play had picked up another demerit point and seen him fined 15 percent of his match fee for a Level 1 offence under the ICC’s code of conduct.
That it was a fourth demerit offence in the space of two years by the big, increasingly volatile strike bowler led to his forced Wanderers sit-out ... a crippling blow at his home venue for the Lions, and possibly the paciest track of the series.
While argument will rage for days about the merits or demerits of the action against Rabada, commentator and former England captain Mike Atherton perhaps summed it up best: “He’s a slow learner because he’s done it before ... he’s got previous and it is an accumulation of errors. Is it worthy of a demerit point? I don’t think so ... but those are the ICC regulations.”
There is another head-scratcher for head coach Mark Boucher and company, however: Rabada was the only black African player in the XI doing duty in Port Elizabeth, and there will be strong political pressure (plus from Cricket South Africa’s own corridors) for that tally not to lapse to none next week.
Temba Bavuma making a career-best 180 for the Lions this week was a major statement in favour of his recall to the batting line-up, so that may lead to another tweak to the team.
While the Proteas had already made a change to their bowling plans in Port Elizabeth - leaving out bowling all-rounder Dwaine Pretorius to facilitate a debut for Cape Cobras specialist seamer Dane Paterson – they would not have expected to already be having to contemplate how to fill Rabada’s considerable shoes at the Bullring.
Paterson provided little impact on day one in the Friendly City, and whether his medium-fast, “skiddy” credentials are suited to the very different landscape of Johannesburg is open to question; he may require some profound success in what remains of the third tussle to earn an onward ticket.
But even if Paterson were to stay, and Pretorius again remain out the XI, there will be a quest for a reasonably like-for-like bowling replacement for Rabada in the final Test.
Considering that Hendricks, 29, is the only other genuine strike bowler in the current, extended SA Test squad of 16, he zooms a lot closer on the radar for a maiden appearance next week.
Also on the Lions’ franchise books, he has plenty of experience of Highveld conditions despite his Capetonian roots.
The once injury-dogged swing bowler is capable of bursts of lively pace and has a decent “skills” repertoire into the bargain ... plus prior international experience through four ODI and 11 Twenty20 caps for the Proteas.
He has had decent first-class miles in his legs of late, too, with two early-January appearances for the Lions in the 4-Day Franchise Series, where he bagged 4/54 and 3/67 in a Bullring victory over the Knights, and then 3/72 and 0/21 in the just-completed reverse to the Dolphins in Maritzburg.
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