CAPE TOWN – There is a fresh breeze blowing through South African cricket at the moment.
The launch of the much-hyped Global T20 League created plenty of excitement even before a ball had been bowled in anger, while the arrival of new Proteas coach Ottis Gibson in the country this week was met with similar enthusiasm.
It certainly feels like the start of a new era, and this optimism only grew on Friday with the announcement of the Proteas Test squad for the series against Bangladesh starting next week in Potchefstroom.
Injuries, loss of form, Kolpak defectors, and the retirement of a senior player has forced national convenor of selectors Linda Zondi’s hand a bit, but the young talent he has sourced has generated a great sense of anticipation.
The hardebaarde are still there with captain Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla and Morné Morkel providing the spine of the team, but there are a host of “20-somethings” ready to leave their mark.
New Titans skipper Aiden Markram leads the pack with the 22-year-old set to make his debut at Senwes Park next week.
The former South African U-19 star certainly chose the opportune time to make an impression with scores of 118 and 87 for in the Sunfoil Series.
The fact that Markram shared opening stands of 52 and 184 with Elgar - the other half of the Proteas opening partnership - would only have benefited his cause. After his failings in England, Heino Kuhn is the batsman who makes way for Markram’s elevation.
“Aiden was obviously on our minds during the England tour already. We felt it was only right to give Heino a fair run throughout the series after coming in for Stephen Cook, but the time is right now for Aiden,” Zondi told Independent Media.
“I have spent a lot of time with the new coach over the last week. He’s very open-minded and wants to get to know our players, which is why we have watched a lot of cricket this week. He likes what he sees in Aiden and the rest of the youngsters.”
Having been a national youth selector for many years, including heading the panel that chose the squad that won the ICC Under-19 World Cup in Dubai in 2014, Zondi seems keen to run with the group that achieved South Africa’s maiden tournament success at any level.
Markram was the captain of that victorious team, while Kagiso Rabada was the spearhead of the attack.
They are joined by Dolphins all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo with the 21-year-old also in line for a Test debut due to injuries to Vernon Philander and Chris Morris. He does, though, face opposition from the recalled Wayne Parnell.
Parnell did not play in the opening round of Sunfoil Series due to groin niggle and faces a late fitness test.
However, should he be ruled out, there is even greater anticipation in the air due to 19-year-old Highveld Lions all-rounder Wiaan Mulder being placed on standby.
The teenager certainly caught Gibson’s eye with a bowling return of 4/70 before following it up with a solid 78.
“A couple of years back, we identified there was a lack of all-rounders after being blessed with an abundance in a previous era,” Zondi said.
“So, it is encouraging to see a group of young all-rounders like Andile and Wiaan putting their hands up and making a play.”
* Cricket South Africa hope to stage the inaugural four-day Test on Boxing Day. According to reports, the ICC are likely to view the match between the Proteas and Zimbabwe as a “trial” exercise.
A final decision will be taken at the ICC board meeting in Auckland in October. The match would also be the first time a day-night “Test” is held in South Africa.
Proteas Test Squad:
Faf du Plessis (captain), Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Theunis de Bruyn, Quinton de Kock, Dean Elgar, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Morné Morkel, Duanne Olivier, Wayne Parnell, Andile Phehlukwayo, Kagiso Rabada.
1st Test v Bangladesh
Thursday, September 28-Monday, October 2
Senwes Park, Potchefstroom
2nd Test v Bangladesh
Friday, October 6-Tuesday, October 10
Mangaung Oval, Bloemfontein