Johannesburg – Khaya Zondo and Janneman Malan clearly feel there may be a spot available in the Proteas’ middle order this summer, and staked an early claim for it, with each scoring a double century in the opening round of matches in the Four-Day Domestic Series.
Victor Mpitsang and his national selectors may feel that the Test team’s vice-captain, Temba Bavuma, who missed the series in the West Indies, but had a good tour in Pakistan in February is worthy of returning straight back into the no.5 spot for the India series in December, but there’s no harm in making him and his fellow selectors ask themselves a few questions before that high-profile series.
For Zondo, who’s had a troubled history with the national side, as testimony at the Social Justice and Nation Building hearings the last few months has revealed, the opening weeks of the season have seen a batter who looks liberated.
While performances in the T20 format aren’t always a reliable gauge, for Zondo, his batting for the Dolphins in the T20 Knock Out competition, revealed a player whose mind was clear, and who seemed to be enjoying his cricket.
It wasn’t as if his maiden first class double hundred was all plain sailing either. He had to navigate a tricky period in which the Dolphins lost three wickets for 12 runs in nine overs, and the Western Province attack with the likes of Nandre Burger, Wayne Parnell, Basheeru-Dean Walters and the left-arm spinner Kyle Simmonds, is one with good variety and experience.
For Zondo to overcome all of that – with assistance from Jason Smith, who scored 101 and continues his excellent start to the season since moving from Cape Town to Durban – speaks volumes for his early season form and perhaps what he wants to achieve as the summer unfolds.
Malan also had to marshal a mini-collapse in Bloemfontein, with Boland losing four wickets for 21 runs in seven overs. He too got help from Ferisco Adams, who made 127 in an eighth wicket partnership of 260.
Malan batted at no.4, a new spot for him and perhaps an indication of where he sees himself drawing the attention of the selection panel.
As was the case for Zondo in Cape Town, Malan also faced a very good attack, with the Knights employing their three big quicks, Migael Pretorius, Mbulelo Budaza and Gerald Coetzee, although on a typically flat Mangaung Oval pitch, they found little joy.
The Highveld again proved the best place to be for seam bowlers. The Lions’ mean quartet of Duanne Olivier, Lutho Sipamla, Malusi Sibotho and Sisanda Magala, are going to give a lot of teams problems at the Wanderers this season. They shared all 20 of wickets between them in bowling North West out twice for under 200.
Glenton Stuurman claimed a first innings ‘five-for’ as the Warriors squeaked home by one wicket against the Titans in Centurion. The Warriors had slumped to 96/6 in pursuit of 236 in their second innings, but half centuries from Lesiba Ngoepe and Marco Jansen, along with an invaluable 32 not out off 34 balls by Tiaan van Vuuren, got the Eastern Caper side across the line.
*Luke Schlemmer’s 153 and seven wickets for Keith Dudgeon saw KwaZulu-Natal Inland thump Easterns by an innings and 109 runs in Pietermaritzburg.
Limpopo and Border played out a thrilling draw in Polokwane, where the home side were eight wickets down and 14 runs short of a target of 391 when stumps were drawn.
Batters of the week
Too hard to separate Zondo and Malan. The former seems to be in the best form of his life and must build on his start to the season with the spot in the Proteas Test squad for that India series a realistic target. Malan has shifted into the middle order for Boland in the red ball format, and making a double hundred certainly draws everyone’s attention. His progress in the next few weeks is definitely going to be worth watching.
Bowlers of the week
That Lions attack looks nasty on paper, and they delivered on the field, overwhelming former franchise partners North West at the Wanderers. Magala and Olivier provide high pace, Sipamla swings the ball, and Siboto is a crafty operator, whose nagging line and length make him a handful. It will be interesting to see how they get on – if they’re all picked together – when the Lions visit the Warriors in Gqeberha this weekend.