Cape Town – South Africa took a squad of 15 on their rain-ruined, two-Test tour of Bangladesh a few weeks ago.
Considering that they will play double that number of Tests in India between November and December, taking at least 16 players seems an entirely fitting course of action.
Indeed, if they took a cue from the Australian selectors, who picked a party of 17 for the recent five-Test Ashes series in England, that number wouldn’t necessarily be absurdly excessive either.
We will find out on Thursday both the composition and size of the Proteas squad; new convenor Linda Zondi will also unveil one-day international and Twenty20 groups for the unusually lengthy, 72-day mission.
Strength in numbers would be no bad thing for the main business – the Test portion of the recently-named Mahatma Gandhi-Nelson Mandela tour – especially when you consider what happened when the SA ‘A’ side travelled to India, with its unique challenges, recently and several of the party landed up in hospital at once with a bad dose of food poisoning.
But picking too many players can also be a bit of a cop-out, suggesting the wise men are dangerously reluctant to nail their colours to the mast, so a Test squad of no more than 16 is perhaps the likeliest scenario.
In that case, a simplistic suggestion might be to simply add the stellar, available-again name of AB de Villiers to the 15 who toured Bangladesh and then leave it at that.
After all, the local season hasn’t even begun yet in the fullest sense, not allowing any form barometer from domestic first-class combat, whilst there was so little Test cricket in the end on the Bangladesh trip that there was barely time to make any judgements about more raw members of the group.
Overwhelmingly, then, the status quo is likely to prevail for the Test squad. Here is a reminder of the surnames from the unavoidably tame, 0-0 Bangladeshi assignment: Amla (capt), Elgar, Hendricks, Du Plessis, Van Zyl, Duminy, De Kock, Philander, Steyn, Morkel, Phangiso, Harmer, Bavuma, Rabada, Vilas.
Re-infusing senior pro De Villiers to a top-five batting position in India, plus having available his possible use behind the stumps, is obviously going to be a morale-boosting development for the still No 1-ranked South Africans as they await a first away trek of four-Test size since 2008 (as many as 23 series ago), when Graeme Smith’s charges won 2-1 in England.
But there must still be a reasonable chance of a tweak or two.
For example, if De Villiers agrees to be earmarked as back-up wicketkeeper in the squad – though someone else will probably do the first-choice glovework job, particularly as such a lengthy tour would make demands on his sometimes troublesome back – then there may well be room only for one of Quinton de Kock and Dane Vilas.
Vilas made his Proteas debut in the second Test in Dhaka, which did not go beyond day one due to torrential rain, so mortifyingly didn’t even get the opportunity to show what he might be able to provide in the lower-middle order from a batting perspective.
Complicating matters is that since his dumping from that game due to a miserable run of form with the blade, the younger but prodigiously talented De Kock has struck back in a big way: he reeled off three centuries in a row against India ‘A’, two of the limited-overs variety and one in an unofficial Test.
If that wasn’t a timely reminder that he can, in fact, master Subcontinent conditions, then nothing else could do the trick ... surely?
Another poser Zondi and company faced in their deliberations was over the composition of the spin arsenal.
In a nutshell, although the squad incumbents are Simon Harmer and Aaron Phangiso, Cape Cobras off-spinner Dane Piedt is also mounting fresh claims for recall after a serious shoulder injury; like De Kock, he took his opportunity to shine with some healthy hauls for the SA ‘A’ side in India very recently.
And what of Imran Tahir? The veteran leggie gets more and more reliable and penetrative for the cause at limited-overs level and, with the faster bowlers likely to be neutralised a fair bit by benign conditions, offers qualities as an extra, genuine “strike” option in the Tests.
Yes, he has had some problematic experiences at five-day level for South Africa (as evidenced by 43 wickets from 16 Tests at a slightly bloated average of 46), but he has not yet had a crack in Indian Test conditions, and did once grab eight wickets in a single Test against Pakistan in a not dissimilar environment in Dubai.
His infectious enthusiasm and wee bit of eccentricity wouldn’t be the worst qualities to have in the ranks on a marathon undertaking like this one ...
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