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No crystal ball is required to predict that the national selectors will tomorrow go for the same Test formula when they announce the Proteas’ squad for the series against New Zealand.
South Africa will once again play seven specialist batsmen and four specialist bowlers for the two Tests at Newlands (January 2-6) and St George’s Park (January11-15) next month.
Coach Gary Kirsten wasted no time on his return to South Africa last week in reaffirming his confidence in the team’s “X-factor” – the use of seven specialist batsmen.
This has been the team’s balance in the two away series against England and Australia ever since Mark Boucher’s eye injury ended his career last winter, resulting in AB de Villiers taking over the wicket-keeping responsibilities.
There have been fears that De Villiers might have put too much pressure on himself by retaining the high-pressure dual role, but he has always denied this has been the case.
Although he failed to reach 50 in the England series and in the first two Tests in Australia, he struck a magnificent 169 in Perth to help his team to victory in the match and the series.
Furthermore, De Villiers played two important innings in a defensive key in Australia: an unbeaten 29 in 114 balls in Brisbane and 33 in 220 balls in Adelaide. Both innings, particularly the latter, helped his team to force draws after they had been put under pressure.
With De Villiers now averaging 48.5 in the six Tests he has played as wicketkeeper-batsman, there can be no good cricketing reason for changing his role.
This means that Thami Tsolekile, who was the back-up wicketkeeper in Australia, will continue in that role unless De Villiers is injured.
South Africa’s experiment with an out-and-out attacking spinner died a violent death in Adelaide where leg-spinner Imran Tahir was pounded to every corner of the Oval, conceding 260 runs at an average of seven an over.
If his fledgling Test career hasn’t already ended, some substantial rehabilitation is called for to repair his shattered confidence.
Meanwhile, left-arm spinner Robin Peterson filled Tahir’s boots successfully, capturing six wickets in Perth, including the prize scalps of Michael Clarke and Ricky Ponting.
The only real debate revolves around the No6 spot, although Faf du Plessis has surely done enough to move up a place. Jacques Rudolph went into the Australia series under pressure and failed in the first two Tests, twice succumbing to poor strokes in Adelaide.
His replacement, Dean Elgar, looked highly vulnerable to Mitchell Johnson’s pace, picking up a pair in his first Test.
Should the selectors keep faith in Elgar?
It would be harsh on the left-hander if he were to be left out on the basis of one poor match, so bet on him being given another opportunity, even if it’s at seven, against the Black Caps.
Likely starting XI: Graeme Smith (capt), Alviro Petersen, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers (w/k), Dean Elgar, Faf du Plessis, Robin Peterson, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Morné Morkel