JOHANNESBURG – Even in the best of times the country’s premier domestic first class competition takes place with no-one looking.
Throw in a victorious and historic march to a third World Cup title for the men’s national rugby team, an intriguing and colourful start to the domestic football season and the genuine sense of ill-feeling around cricket at the moment, and the sense that no-one cares for cricket right now is more tangible
That will change. Cricket South Africa hope to do it with the Mzansi Super League that starts this week. But the first few rounds of that competition is unlikely to generate much excitement - the Rugby World Cup champions have to be celebrated first, there’s a Soweto Derby at the weekend, and people are still at work or writing exams - so their attention will be on other things.
Meanwhile, the real important part of the South African cricket season, is England’s four Test series, that starts in Centurion on Boxing Day. In that regard the first four rounds of the still sponsorless Four-Day Franchise Series, was critical.
The battering the Proteas copped in India has meant that spots in the batting order, especially, are up for grabs. Leaving aside for a moment the fact that there is no Director of Cricket or even a selection panel, or that there is only one more round of four day matches for the first Test. players have put their names in the hat for selection for SuperSport Park.
The most notable among the batsmen, is Rassie van der Dussen, who scored 154* in the Lions’ innings win against the Dolphins last week. Van der Dussen’s innings stood out in a match where a number of batsmen got starts - there were five half-centuries, and two forties - but he was the only one to make his start count.
Given Van der Dussen’s success in the Proteas On-Day team in the last 12 months, coupled with his consistency domestically, across the formats in the last three seasons it would be very tough on him, if whoever picks the squad for the first Test, doesn’t jot down his name.
Young batsmen have made an impression too; Kyle Verrynne has two centuries and two half centuries over the first four matches of the season, and given that kind of form, the theory that he could come into the side at No 7 with Quinton de Kock moving to No 4, probably demands some thinking.
De Kock’s record at No 44 is limited to just four innings - all in the series in England in 2017 - when he made 68 in South Africa’s win at Trent Bridge, but just 13 runs in his other three innings.
Whenever a selection panel does meet, that record will also bear some consideration, and the fact that Van der Dussen has continued to bat well, means South Africa, which can ill-afford much more instability, would have a ready-made player able to slot into a position where he is comfortable and De Kock, who’s played his best when at No 7 in the Test team, can continue to deliver from that position.
The other notable name among the batsmen, is that of Raynard van Tonder, the 21 year old Free Stater who is the first player this season to break the 500-run mark in the competition, thanks to a double hundred against a Titans attack that included Lungi Ngidi, Junior Dala and Tabraiz Shamsi.
Whether the selectors, whoever they maybe, feel it is right to throw a rookie into the mix will be interesting, but hopefully someone within CSA’s coaching structures has kept an eye on how Van Tonder is playing - beyond merely scanning the scorecards.
On the bowling front, the Proteas’ attack is largely settled. No-one has really made the kind of impression that would demand axing Kagiso Rabada or Vernon Philander. That Ngidi got 22 overs into his legs in Bloemfontein last week will prove very beneficial for him.
But, fast bowler Gerald Coetzee (19), also from Free State, has picked up 17 wickets and looks good.