Cape Town - It should have been the perfect
“recce” for the Proteas’ longest ever Test tour of India in November and
Two five-dayers in nearby Bangladesh, with
its not dissimilar conditions, seemed the perfect way to answer some pressing
questions ahead of the formidable, four-Test Indian challenge.
Instead the world’s No 1-ranked side played
out an inevitably tame 0-0 stalemate after monsoon rain wiped out some 60
percent of possible game-time in the mini-series.
So not only will Hashim Amla’s side visit
India still dangerously undercooked in terms of Test-match play this year, but
coach Russell Domingo and his lieutenants, through no fault of their own, have
certain lingering dilemmas regarding both individuals and team balance.
Here are five I suggest they may still be
Simon Harmer the right man as frontline spinner?
In short, the answer stays only “maybe”.
That is because the 26-year-old never got the opportunity in Bangladesh to come
into his own in a key, second-innings scenario when the spinner’s role alters
from a generally run-containing requirement in the first knock to intended
strike factor on a deteriorating track.
The tall offie continues to learn and
develop at this level – he still only has three caps, remember – and seldom
strayed much beyond three runs to the over in either Chittagong or Dhaka, which
is reasonable enough.
His lone bowl in the second half, if you
like, of a Test match came against West Indies on debut over New Year at
Newlands, and he bagged 4/82, so purely on those grounds he probably justifies
keeping his berth for the first Test against India at Mohali from November 5.
Stiaan van Zyl really suited to opening the batting?
Again, it will require longer to make a
confident judgement ... but if anything, the left-hander enhanced his claims in
Bangladesh after sharing half-century opening stands with Dean Elgar (one
unbroken) in the Chittagong game.
That hardly suggests the pairing should
suddenly be split up, so expect them to walk out together when the Proteas bat
Van Zyl did show pleasing ability in Bangladesh
to spiritedly get after the new, hard ball, although the suitability of his
technique at the top to seaming, faster pitches may only be seriously tested
when a resurgent England visit our shores as headliners of the domestic summer.
Like Elgar, he seems well capable of
playing some major innings in India given his qualities in application.
makes way when AB de Villiers comes back?
This is a toughie. De Villiers, South
Africa’s main bums-on-seats guy, will thankfully return to his No 5 slot against
India after taking paternity leave from the latest series.
But it then leaves the poser of which
incumbent middle-order player is to be sacrificed, assuming he remains deployed
as “batsman only” (see also next question!).
The omission is presumably going to have to
be one of Temba Bavuma or JP Duminy, current occupants of slots five and six,
and both have pros and cons.
Bavuma remains very inexperienced, which
would obviously interest the Indians, but in his last innings (and his third
Test match) he notched a maiden half-ton, knuckling down for almost 160 minutes
as a bit of a wobbly took place around him in Chittagong.
It was an examination of temperament, and
he ticked the box.
Duminy, meanwhile, remains a fickle
customer at the crease in Tests and had the unfortunate fate of facing just one
delivery in the Bangladesh series ... and getting out to it.
That failure helped drag his Test average
down a tad further to 35.55, whilst his figure in Asia – a concern with an
Indian tour next – is 21.44 from eight Tests in the region.
But we also know he can make big, vital
runs, and something complicating any thought of dropping him is his increased
competence as fifth bowler and second spinner: he has 14 wickets at 32 in
Duminy is still a not inconsequential
“rebalancer” of the XI in this new age minus the all-round great Jacques
is the correct choice as wicketkeeper?
This brings De Villiers back into focus,
and whether he might be prepared to resurrect his dual role as the gloveman.
He had given up the gloves last summer,
when Quinton de Kock – then in slightly happier times performance-wise – was
installed behind the Test stumps.
But then De Kock got injured in the first
Test against West Indies at Centurion, and De Villiers returned to the
responsibility for the remainder of that series, before the former stepped back
into the role in Bangladesh with his senior team-mate absent.
De Kock is suffering prolonged batting woes
in all formats and has since been demoted to the SA ‘A’ side to try to get his
mojo back, and Dane Vilas earned a debut in Dhaka.
Alas, he is another new face not to receive
a proper, educative “workout” as havoc-wreaking rain there prevented him from
showing off his own batting credentials.
There is general instability and
uncertainty regarding wicketkeeping for the Proteas, who on Tuesday debatably
recalled the 36-year-old Morne van Wyk to both their ODI and T20 brews for New
Zealand’s short, early spring visit.
Gloves in the Indian Tests? It’s a bit of a
toss-up right now ...
the “seven batsmen” formula going to keep working?
The Proteas have liked this recipe since
the Gary Kirsten tenure as head coach; it has continued into the Domingo reign.
While it gives South Africa a particularly
reassuring look on the batting front, and makes bowling them out twice a
demanding task for opponents, it does mean a limit of four specialist bowlers.
Increasingly, there is an unhealthy reliance
on Dale Steyn for regular success in the wickets column, especially on
Subcontinent pitches less helpful to pacemen.
Whether the present Proteas attack (with a
rookie spinner and both Messrs Philander and Morkel less than prolific in
strike terms) has the oomph to knock over India’s renowned stroke-players twice
in five days on their surfaces is a seriously debatable point.
Especially if De Villiers can be coaxed
into taking back the gloves while still batting in the top five, it may be
worth SA contemplating bringing Philander, an under-rated batsman, up to seven
in India from his present No 8, and thus creating an extra bowling spot.
Philander, who is so much more suited to
decks which seam around a bit, could then feel less pressured to take wickets
and simply help build pressure through his renowned economy.
It would open up possibilities either for
exciting young Kagiso Rabada to stiffen the pace arsenal, or for the Proteas to
add a second specialist spinner in the India Tests ... a personal view is that
“forgotten” leg-spinner Imran Tahir, warts and all, could still offer some
breakthrough clout and X-factor even if he is vulnerable to occasional
thumpings in the five-day landscape.
A personal wish, albeit this far out from
it, would be for this sort of line-up for the first Test in Mohali: Van Zyl,
Elgar, Du Plessis, Amla (captain), De Villiers (wkt), Duminy/Bavuma, Philander,
Harmer, Steyn, Morkel, Tahir.
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing