Cape Town – There will be a nice little synergy and poignancy at play if Zubayr Hamza, as is strongly expected, makes his Test debut for South Africa in the third clash against Pakistan at the Wanderers from Friday.
Although there may also be a maiden appearance for Cape Cobras colleague Pieter Malan if Aiden Markram fails a fitness test, Hamza is really the next cab off the squad stroke-playing rank and the logical replacement for briefly suspended captain and middle-order batsman Faf du Plessis.
So if the 23-year-old is handed that coveted cap before play starts at the Bullring, he will become the first South African specialist batting debutant in Tests at the famous Johannesburg venue for some 17 years.
The prior instance? None other than Hamza’s current franchise head coach Ashwell Prince.
Then 24, the left-hander was blooded in some of the toughest circumstances imaginable: asked to operate at the hotspot of No 3 and against an Australian side under Steve Waugh that was at the peak of its powers, and with a four-pronged frontline attack featuring Messrs McGrath, Gillespie, Lee and Warne.
It was the first Test of that 2001/02 series, and the Baggy Greens set an ominous tone for an eventual 2-1 triumph by pulverising their hosts by an innings and 360 runs at the Wanderers.
Still, Prince quickly showed his mettle with top score of 49 in the SA first innings of 159 all out and then another determined 28, as second top-scorer, in the even more paltry 133 the next time around by the host nation.
The novice being (along with Herschelle Gibbs) South Africa’s most resilient factor at the crease in that uncomfortable match was quite a statement on his part, considering that the home line-up had included vastly more experienced and highly-touted batsmen like Jacques Kallis and Gary Kirsten.
So it would be the fitting launch, despite the embarrassment of the result, to a 66-Test career by the single-minded man from the Eastern Cape, in which he averaged 41.64.
Hamza would almost certainly be delighted to emulate or better Prince’s performance on his own Bullring debut, and be even more chuffed if he, similarly, gradually nails down a regular berth in the national team.
Now his overseer as franchise coach, Prince played down on Twitter earlier this week his own role in Hamza’s first-class blossoming … which nevertheless seems largely beyond doubt.
The last Test debutant, regardless of nationality, at the Wanderers was Australian seamer Chadd Sayers, who failed to make a major impression – he hasn’t played for his country again since – in the fourth and final Test last summer, when the Proteas put the cherry on top with a 492-run victory for a 3-1 triumph in the controversy-stained series.
All of the South African first-timers in Tests at the ground in the period since Prince debuted have either been of the outright bowling or bowling all-rounder variety.
They include Duanne Olivier, who has been a revelation in the ongoing series against the Pakistanis and was first introduced to the Test environment against Sri Lanka there in January 2017, bagging 2/19 and 3/38.
Before him, Hardus Viljoen (now on Kolpak terms) debuted against England at the Wanderers in early 2016, although his career in the format didn’t exactly take off subsequently: like the Australians’ Sayers, he has remained a “one-cap wonder”.
The other two South Africans to have made Wanderers debuts – both 2010, against the English -- in the period since Prince’s first cap are Ryan McLaren and Wayne Parnell, useful enough lower-order batsmen but much more renowned for their seam exploits.
McLaren has played only one additional Test, while Parnell collected five further caps.
Hamza will be hoping his own Big Smoke baptism – and it is high time South Africa sees a fresh face in batting terms -- leads to further recognition that is rather less economical or fitful.
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