When it comes to selecting a national Test side, things become harder. The best in the world can splutter like a damp squib in certain circumstances. Do the selectors carry on backing talent over form? Do they toss the baby out with the bathwater? Difficult decisions, but ones that need to be made a little more sensibly.
Recently, the selectors decided to make a call on form, pulling opener Stephen Cook for the vital last Test against New Zealand. Of course, because this is not a fine art, Cook’s removal can be debated ad nauseam, but what should not be a debate is the next man in.
The man to step into Cook’s shoes was Knights linchpin, Theunis de Bruyn. There wasn't an outcry when the 24-year-old had been called up to the squad because he had done his dues domestically. Eyebrows were raised when De Bruyn was thrust into the opening berth having made his name as a middle-order power hitter. It is decisions like these that puzzle fans, and probably players too. More importantly, in the long run it is a very damaging move.
De Bruyn has looked out of depth in his two chances for the Proteas Test side, earning a duck and 12 runs in his two innings. He is heavily under pressure, including internally, knowing he has to play a role that is foreign to him.
If the Proteas selectors are going to drop a player for form, they need to be able to replace him with a like-for-like, or better, substitute. A Test opener is a special breed, and can not simply be moulded on the fly.
Middle order star Stiaan van Zyl travelled with the Proteas to India as their opener, and played England back home. In nine innings at the top of the order he managed to score 89 runs at an average of 9.88. Ironically, it was Cook who was brought in to replace Van Zyl.
Poor selection choices will be the death of our up-and-coming talent, especially at a time when off-shore options will welcome those who were set up to fail.