Cape Town - Graeme
Smith, if he finally gets on board as director of cricket with the Proteas on
Wednesday, is going to have to turn miracle-worker pretty quickly ... especially
in getting the frontline Test bowling attack up to speed, as it were.
Bowlers get particularly
skimpy opportunities to ply their stamina-requiring trade in Twenty20 cricket,
which has been the lone form of domestic activity for several weeks through the
Mzansi Super League.
tournament only ends with the final - already confirmed for the Boland Park
home of relative surprise packages Paarl Rocks - on Monday.
four-over quotas for an extended period hardly amount to the ideal way for
seamers, especially, to get necessary miles in their legs for the notably
opposite demands of Test cricket.
That format will
come - hopefully not too much like an onrushing train? - for the national
team on Boxing Day, when they are pitched into action against England at
SuperSport Park, the first of four keenly awaited encounters.
Only 10 days
separate completion of the MSL (which has also had its good share of unhelpful
washouts) and the start of the Test series and, largely as a result of the
general, much-publicised meltdown at Cricket South Africa, the Proteas look more
ill-prepared in many respects than they ever have been before a major series.
strategic posts immediately above the national team itself have either been
occupied on an interim basis or been more wholly vacant ... like the key director
of cricket's berth, where Smith (in conjunction with acting head coach Enoch
Nkwe) will be required to hit the ground running if there are no further
hiccups to his signature being secured in midweek.
It is the
major SA bowlers, especially, who will all be frighteningly short of a gallop
in the lead-up to the Centurion date, for which several of the rival England
players - including all-time top Test pace-bowling wicket-taker James Anderson - have already been hard at work at a camp in the Western Cape.
Anderson has not had a competitive bowl since August 1, when he tore a calf in
the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston, most of the remainder of the English pace attack
have just come off a two-Test tour of New Zealand, so well versed in the
durability-related demands of the arena.
series was lost 1-0, emerging strike factor Jofra Archer sent down 82 overs
across the Mount Maunganui and Hamilton tussles, Sam Curran 74, Stuart Broad 70
and Ben Stokes 53.
first-choice spinner Jack Leach was not as busy, only playing in the first
Test, but still got 47 overs beneath the belt.
this is very much the UK off-season, yet England already look better primed as
a bowling unit, considering the scary dearth of first-class play for the
Proteas' premier bowlers in recent weeks.
increasingly clear that several Proteas bowlers will need to play either in the
round of CSA 4-Day Franchise Series matches between December 19 and 22, or
perhaps even be a little cheekily fielded in the SA 'A' side playing the
tourists in their second warm-up fixture (three-dayer) at Benoni from December
are any surprises in store from a yet-to-be-finalised group of South African
selectors, the frontline Proteas attack in the first Test is likely to be made
up of four from the five players listed below ... with short summaries of their usually
lean recent workloads also provided.
lower-order all-rounder's last first-class match was the second Test against
India at Pune from October 10. Since then, he has sent down an especially
minimal 11 overs in the MSL (across six matches) for Cape Town Blitz, earning a
relatively unflattering 1/106.
lesser demands, workload-wise, of the MSL will prove a blessing in disguise
when the spearhead squares up to England, as he had been victim of general
overplay for a long time ahead of it. Rabada played all three Tests in the 0-3
reverse in India, and has subsequently offered 26.1 overs (seven matches) for
still winless Jozi Stars in the MSL - for figures of 8/218.
bustling, talented but regrettably rather injury-prone fast bowler played just
the third Test in India, but then did return to play one franchise four-dayer
for the Titans in Bloemfontein, where he could manage only 1/102 from 22 overs
against hosts the Knights in late October. He has bowled 20 overs in the
Mzansi, and bagged a tidy enough 9/164 across seven outings for Tshwane
26-year-old tearaway had a baptism of fire in India, his two Tests seeing him
bag a solitary wicket at a cost of 179 runs. But he should still feature at
some point against the English on preferred, home surfaces. Nortje has sent
down 26.2 overs in the MSL for the Blitz, and sports figures of 6/228.
established as the Proteas' first-choice spinner in the Test landscape, his
tour of India was cut short by injury after the first encounter at
Visakhapatnam. He has since returned to full fitness, though, and in
six-matches for the weather-jinxed Durban Heat in the MSL bowled 23 overs
(5/152).*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing