South Africa are ready to unleash their full artillery of fast bowlers in the much-anticipated series opener against India at Newlands next week.
Having had various pacemen in recovery and rehabilitation over the past two years, the selectors have finally been able to call on all the country’s frontline fast men.
Dale Steyn, who is still five wickets shy of passing Shaun Pollock’s all-time national record of 421 Test scalps, was included after missing the two-day rout of Zimbabwe in Port Elizabeth this week due to a viral infection.
All-rounder Chris Morris is also back in the 15-member squad after recovering from a recent groin injury.
Morris has not played international cricket throughout the home summer after a back injury sustained on the England tour forced him to miss the Bangladesh series. He returned in the RamSlam T20 Challenge, but was struck down again in the final after claiming 4/13 to help propel the Titans to the title.
The major concern for the Proteas, though, is how they are going to fit all their fast bowlers into the starting line-up.
Morné Morkel was the standout at St George’s Park with the lanky fast bowler bagging his first “five-for” in five years, while Vernon Philander’s record at Newlands is remarkable.
Equally, Kagiso Rabada was the Proteas’ chief destroyer in 2017 and all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo recorded match figures of 5/25 in PE.
“It comes down to the conditions on the day. That will determine the selection,” national convener of selectors Linda Zondi told Independent Media.
“We have options and we would rather want to be in this situation (rather than not have options). The all-rounders are different as Morris brings experience and raw pace. Andile is young and has shown lots of control.
“Dale didn’t play in PE too but he is a world-class bowler. The conditions will dictate whether we go with a four-man pace attack, the all-rounder or six or seven batsmen. It is a good situation to be in.”
South Africa have also opted not to include a specialist wicketkeeper as cover for the currently injured Quinton de Kock.
AB de Villiers was forced to keep wicket in his return match after De Kock limped off with a hamstring strain while batting this week.
It is expected that De Kock will be fit for Newlands, but it may still be a gamble ahead of such a crucial encounter. De Villiers indicated he would not like to take the gloves long term as it hampers his batting, but was open to a discussion on the matter if a stop-gap solution was required.
Should De Kock be ruled out, and De Villiers does indeed take the gloves, it would solve another issue for the selectors as captain Faf du Plessis has to return to the line-up too.
“I think Quinton should be ready. It is only a Grade 1 strain,” Zondi said.
“Obviously we do not want AB to keep and we do have options for a second wicketkeeper but there is a definitely a discussion to be had if it's just a once-off situation.”
There are many who are concerned with the Proteas’ workload ahead of the India series, with the Boxing Day Test against Zimbabwe having lasted only two days. The bowlers had a good workout by bowling close to 80 overs, but the batsmen only had one innings.
Stand-in captain De Villiers opted to enforce the follow-on instead of choosing to bat a second time. Zondi admits he would have liked to see the batsmen have some extra time in the middle, but does believe the team is making progress in a few crucial positions.
“It was disappointing that it lasted just two days, but we’ve spoken a lot about the team being ruthless when playing weaker opposition. And that’s exactly how they were.
“I think the major positive to come out of the last couple of series is the opening partnership. I know it is only Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, but that laaitie (Aiden) Markram is really showing great maturity. He and Dean (Elgar) have developed a good understanding and he just continues to score hundreds, so that’s a real positive for the team,” Zondi added.
SA squad for Cape Town Test
Faf du Plessis (capt), Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock (wk), Theunis de Bruyn, AB de Villiers, Dean Elgar, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Morné Morkel, Chris Morris, Andile Phehlukwayo, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn