T20 snag for Proteas’ selectors

2014-01-06 22:50
Jacques Kallis (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – South Africa’s selectors are going to have to be guided primarily by instinct and memory when they assemble the Proteas squad for the keenly-anticipated first Test against Australia at Centurion from February 12-16.

They are not going to have the benefit of gauging any up-to-the-minute performances in domestic first-class combat ahead of the visit of the resurgent Baggy Greens, even if there is a good case for saying the squad will have an overwhelmingly settled look to it anyway.

Having come off a 1-0 mini-series triumph over India to only reinforce their position at the top of the world rankings, wholesale alterations are unlikely.

But the sudden retirement of Jacques Kallis leaves a rather obvious, major hole to fill, not least because of the balance he brought the side through his all-round skills.

In some senses Andrew Hudson’s panel are thus looking to plug “two” vacancies because they have to mull over whether to replace him with a specialist batsman (albeit not necessarily going straight into his No 4 slot, where the suitably dogged Faf du Plessis may well be promoted instead) or to look at a bowler who also offers lower-end batting possibilities: candidates like Ryan McLaren and Wayne Parnell come to mind in that regard.

So in a normal season, if you like, the next few weeks might offer a few challengers for the Kallis void a great opportunity to stake strong claims through weight of performance in four-day cricket, the closest cousin of the Test environment.

But Cricket South Africa – not without some justification, considering the ailing domestic attendances – chose to compartmentalise the fixture list to a good degree for 2013/14, seeking to have top national stars available as much as possible for a non-stop period of Ram Slam T20 Challenge action throughout January and a bit beyond.

It is the competition likeliest to aid struggling franchise coffers through gate receipts.

The down side of that roster formula is that the Sunfoil Series only resumes, following a gap since before Christmas, on the very weekend that the SuperSport Park Test against the Aussies begins.

Until then, the local diet is all T20, with the final scheduled for February 9, a mere three days before the three-Test series gets underway.

There is a four-day tour warm-up match for Michael Clarke’s team at Potchefstroom from February 5-8, but by then the Proteas are likely to have their squad ducks in a row, even if a member of the SA Invitation XI tackling the tourists, perhaps, does something out of this world performance-wise there.

The situation is arguably no comfort for a talented youngster like Quinton de Kock, who has been taking one-day international cricket by storm in recent times, but is still considered by some critics as “not ready yet” for Tests.

The baby-faced Lions stroke-player, however, does boast an impressive first-class average of almost 52 after 19 matches in that format.

A couple of big 150s, say, from the 21-year-old left-hander in any Sunfoil Series matches ahead of the Aussies’ visit would really have put pressure on Hudson’s panel to pick him.

Instead, he may well get some good “short and sharp” runs for the Lions in the T20 landscape, but stay pigeon-holed as a limited-overs factor for the moment and not crack the squad nod for the big Test series on those grounds.

Someone like Dean Elgar is in the extended SA Test squad anyway, and he too might well have welcomed some Sunfoil Series activity over the remainder of this month to emphasise his credentials for a return to the XI.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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