Before South Africa can turn their attention to the World T20, that is only three weeks away, the national team’s selection convener Andrew Hudson has some major decisions to make.
Hudson, with his panel and Cricket South Africa’s executive board, need to find a new captain, an opening batsman and a spinner for the Test side.
It may not be of immediate concern – South Africa’s next Test assignment is only in June – but they are imperative if the Proteas want to remain at the pinnacle of the five-day game.
“It is critical that we explore every option available in how we move this team forward,” Hudson said yesterday in the aftermath of the Proteas losing 2-1 to Australia.
“We are at the end of an era now, with Graeme (Smith) retiring after 11 years. This team needs to be refreshed and, with the coach and new captain, we must now find a brand of cricket that they are comfortable in playing.
“We don’t need to start over completely, because there remains a host of quality players in that side. But with Jacques (Kallis) and Graeme (Smith) retiring within such a short space of each other, it gives us the opportunity to freshen up a few things.”
Part of the Proteas’ Test success has been based on solid selection policies. This has resulted in players being able to express themselves out in the middle without fear of failure, knowing they were being backed over a period. Batsmen had regular places in the batting line-up, while fringe squad players had the comfort of a pecking order.
The Australian series cast the spotlight on Hudson and Co, especially before the second Test in Port Elizabeth when confusion reigned at the toss.
It was partly due to late injuries, but the late selection of rookie Quinton de Kock from outside the squad raised eyebrows. Kyle Abbott was also drafted straight into the starting XI at the expense of regular squad member Rory Kleinveldt for the Newland series decider.
“This was a tough series from a selection point of view, primarily due to the unforeseen injuries we experienced. Both our all-rounders, Ryan McLaren and Wayne Parnell, suffered injuries during this series and were ruled out of the next Test. We also lost a seam bowler in two Tests with Parnell and Dale Steyn pulling up during a match,” Hudson explained.
“There certainly is a ‘pecking order’ and that is what we try and work with on most occasions. But we don’t also want to be so structured and process driven that we can’t manoeuvre for a once-off series decider like we had at Newlands.
“We thought ‘Abbo’ was better suited to playing in this game because he had come into the game playing four-day cricket, while we were worried about Rory’s calf as he had not played for a couple of weeks.
“We did not want to risk having another bowler break down, and as luck would have it, Dale broke down. But we sat down with Rory and explained this him, because communication is key in matters like this because you lose players’ trust when you don’t communicate,” Hudson added.
Cricket South Africa (CSA) took a step into the future yesterday with Dean Elgar being handed a national contract to replace the now-retired Smith. Elgar was contracted to CSA last year but, under the new system that has seven players signed on for two years and another 10 on one-year deals, the left-hand batsman was omitted last week when the new contracted players were initially announced.
Elgar is likely to move permanently into the opening berth, hence him being nationally contracted.
“Dean is the obvious replacement and must be excited by the opportunity to emulate the greatness achieved by his recently retired national captain,” said Haroon Lorgat, CSA chief executive. He has all the attributes and qualifies as the next player eligible to be awarded a contract,” Lorgat said.
CSA also announced 12 players who received high-performance contracts, with great emphasis being placed on the development of black African players. South Africa’s under-19 fast bowling prodigy Kagiso Rabada from the Highveld Lions was a notable selection.
“This is an investment in our future,” Hudson said.
“Rabada gets up to 140km/h and we believe he has great potential that can be developed,” he added.
Players on two-year contracts: AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn
Players on one-year contracts: Quinton de Kock, Dean Elgar, Rory Kleinveldt, Ryan McLaren, David Miller, Wayne Parnell, Alviro Petersen, Robin Peterson, Imran Tahir, Lonwabo Tsotsobe
High-performance contracts: Kyle Abbott, Temba Bavuma, Simon Harmer, Beuran Hendricks, Reeza Hendricks, Eddie Leie, Mangaliso Mosehle, Aaron Phangiso, Kagiso Rabada, Rilee Rossouw, Stiaan van Zyl, Khaya Zondo - The Star