JOHANNESBURG – South Africa’s selectors have seemingly run out of patience with Wayne Parnell, while Stephen Cook’s lack of run-scoring output at Durham cost him his spot in a 16-man squad for the four Tests against England named on Monday.
In their stead, Aiden Markram, Heino Kuhn and Andile Phehlukwayo will all be given an opportunity for a series which will likely start with Dean Elgar captaining the team at Lord’s in the first Test starting next Thursday.
Faf du Plessis looks like he’ll miss that match as his wife Imari awaits the birth of the couple’s first child.
For Cook, it appears his Test career may be over after just 11 games. It was always likely to be a bit of a ‘stop-gap’ pick, as the selectors waited for Markram to mature, but it’s still been a shorter stint than either the player or the selection panel would have wanted.
Last summer Cook wasn’t at his best – although he made two centuries – and his struggles in New Zealand accelerated calls for his axing.
In an attempt to restore some confidence – and to please the selectors – he took up a stint at Durham in English county cricket.
But an average of 26.76 in 14 innings, with just two half-centuries, was never going to be enough, particularly with Kuhn drawing attention his way with some sparkling performances for the SA A side, which concluded their tour of England at the weekend.
The 33-year-old right-hander, who’s played seven T20 Internationals, scored a century and a double century in a couple of four-day games for the A side, while there was also an unbeaten 81 in a one-day game against the England Lions.
Kuhn’s selection goes beyond just what he achieved on the A tour, however. He also covers the reserve wicket-keeper spot, and can bat anywhere in the top six.
South Africa will face the England Lions in a four-day game starting on Thursday, with Kuhn likely to partner Elgar at the top of the order, while Theunis de Bruyn will probably slot in at No 5 in Du Plessis’ absence.
For now, Markram is on a sort of internship with the squad.
Kuhn’s arguably been the most consistent player on the domestic scene in the last two seasons. In the 2015/16 summer, he scored 1 126 runs when the Titans won the Sunfoil Series, while last season his return of 527 runs came at an average of 43.91.
Parnell’s inconsistency has cost him his place in the Test squad. His confidence took a battering in the Champions Trophy, and in the only T20 match he played in the recent series against the English, he conceded 26 runs in two overs.
Parnell’s potential and his productivity differ drastically – when he’s good, the 27-year-old is very good.
But when he’s bad, he’s awful, and captains cannot afford such a dramatic differential in the Test arena. Parnell has now dropped below Chris Morris and 21-year-old Phehlukwayo in South Africa’s all-rounder ranks.
And even though Parnell’s bowling, when he’s on song, may be more dynamic than the other two, whoever captains the Proteas will trust that Morris and Phehlukwayo can stick to a plan for a reasonable amount of time.
In Phehlukwayo’s case, he certainly seems to have grown as an international cricketer since making his debut last summer.
How he fares in the first-class arena is something of a mystery, given he’s had very little exposure to long-form cricket, having only played 24 first-class matches.
Last season he represented the Dolphins five times in the Sunfoil Series, but his statistics from those matches didn’t set the competition alight.
For now, he along with Morris is being viewed as cover for Vernon Philander, who damaged his ankle and last played for Sussex two weeks ago.
Before then, Philander had had a lengthy period on the sidelines with a groin injury – and there will be concerns about whether he can make it through a four-Test series that will be played over four weeks.
On paper at least the Proteas, even in Dale Steyn’s absence, have a strong attack, with Philander, Morné Morkel and Kagiso Rabada a potent triumvirate, backed up by the control of Keshav Maharaj’s left-arm spin.
If Philander does sit out at Lord’s or at any other point in the series, then Morris, who showed some good energy in the T20s, will most likely earn a third Test cap – his last having come also against England in that dreadful defeat at the Wanderers in January last year.
Proteas Test Squad
Faf du Plessis (captain), Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Theunis de Bruyn, Quinton de Kock, JP Duminy, Dean Elgar, Heino Kuhn, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Morné Morkel, Chris Morris, Duanne Olivier, Andile Phehlukwayo, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada.