Cape Town - Place "not losing" at a higher premium than winning, the latter an event that would
occur against strong odds.
may sound like a negative template, it is probably the most suitable way for
South Africa to approach their formidable introduction to World Test
Championship activity: against India in the first of three contests beginning
at Visakhapatnam on Wednesday (06:00 SA time).
it, the most pressing task for the Proteas - at least initially in the series,
before they can even contemplate any greater sense of adventure - is really to
try to prove more durable and resilient than they did on the harrowing last
tour in 2015, when they were grilled 3-0.
apply to a special extent to their batting, which had been the overwhelming bugbear
on the last occasion, flimsy totals on prodigious, sometimes ill-prepared
turners being the order of the day roughly from start to finish.
pitches should be less lottery-like this time around, Enoch Nkwe's debut as a
Test head coach is not made any easier by the vast surrender of experience and
excellence since the 2015 trek, in the shape of the retirements of both Hashim
Amla and AB de Villiers.
them, the middle-order kingpins accumulated 18 047 runs planet-wide in the
premier format during lengthy careers.
enormous surrender in proven majesty badly impedes a remaining batting arsenal
that is collectively, scarily low in both confidence and consistently compelling
circumstances, it might well be madness for South Africa not to field the
entire specialist batting stock in their squad (if you exclude the reserve
wicketkeeper Heinrich Klaasen) for the first Test.
curb them to only four out-and-out bowlers, but that is increasingly the way
many Test teams are setting out their stalls these days, in an era low on
would also have the relative comfort of knowing that they have some competent
enough "fill-in" bowlers from the batting ranks: Dean Elgar and Aiden Markram
for spin and Theunis de Bruyn for disciplined medium-pace fare.
On any given
day in India, that trio should be capable of weighing in with 15 overs or
thereabouts between them to lessen the load on the front-liners.
would that main quartet be, if that is, indeed, the balance between resources
in team makeup that the brains trust opts for?
conditions will naturally have a say, two seamers and two spinners seems the
likeliest route to take.
If a pace
duo (rather than trio) is favoured, then Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander
appear the most obvious choices, the former expected to provide an element of
venom, especially while the ball is still relatively hard and shiny, and
Philander settling into his tight, patience-examining mode just outside
would also be that reverse swing assist both men later in the contest,
something reasonably common in India if the surface turns gradually abrasive.
the extra pacemen in the squad, Lungi Ngidi and the uncapped Anrich Nortje, has
yet played a Test match in India, and Ngidi only one on the subcontinent as a
whole - against Sri Lanka with no pronounced success at Colombo in 2018.
As for the
spin area, it is highly unlikely that the Proteas would field two left-arm
orthodox customers, so incumbent Keshav Maharaj, fresh off a rosy county stint
for Yorkshire in 2019, will play ahead of another rookie in Senuran Muthusamy,
despite the latter’s fairly inviting batting credentials.
allow room for the variety and angle-change provided by off-spinner Dane Piedt:
the popular Cape Cobras figure would be playing his first Test since August
2016, although his seven so far have seen him grab a tidy 24 wickets.
completely write off the possibility of the Proteas sacrificing a batsman,
although that would mean gloveman Quinton de Kock shifting one berth higher to
No 6 - traditionally he doesn't come off in a great way there - and the Indians
believing more strongly than ever that they can get the 20-wickets job done
without excessive toil all over again.
A touch of
conservatism in selection, if you like, by going batting-heavy, seems the right
medicine on paper for the underdogs, considering the unpleasant ravages of
their recent history in India ...
SA team: Aiden
Markram, Dean Elgar, Theunis de Bruyn, Faf du Plessis (capt), Temba Bavuma,
Zubayr Hamza, Quinton de Kock, Vernon Philander, Dane Piedt, Keshav Maharaj,
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing