CAPE TOWN - For all the criticism Twenty20 cricket has had to endure from the purists, there is no doubt that the shortest format of the game has led to a revival of some of its finer aspects.
Spin has undergone a revolution and now it seems the seam-bowling all-rounder is also making a comeback. While not in the same league as the 1980s “Awesome Foursome” of Richard Hadlee, Imran Khan, Ian Botham and Kapil Dev as yet, like their predecessors they are adding a great deal of excitement to the Test arena.
The current generation is, of course, led by England maverick Ben Stokes. Arguably, the hottest property in the game right now - confirmed by his £1.7 million price tag in the IPL - Stokes thrills with both bat and ball across formats.
Equally, India have unearthed a gem in Hardik Pandya, who confirmed his burgeoning reputation with a maiden Test century in just his third match last month.
The Proteas have not settled on their Test all-rounder pick yet with Vernon Philander, Chris Morris and Wayne Parnell all vying for the role. Philander is the more classical all-rounder of the trio with Morris and Parnell being more “X-factor” players who have the ability to change the course of a Test with a little big of magic with bat or ball.
Unfortunately for new Proteas coach Ottis Gibson, he will not have any of those three available for the first Test against Bangladesh next week due to all of them being struck down by injury. Philander and Morris both have back ailments, while Parnell hurt his groin while training in the gym.
The trio’s enforced absence therefore leaves the door ajar for Proteas limited-overs starlet Andile Phehlukwayo. The 21-year-old, who has produced match-winning performances for the ODI and T20 teams, was part of the Test squad on the recent England tour, but was not handed a debut even though both Philander and Morris sat out a couple of Tests due to their respective injuries.
It was understood at the time that Phehlukwayo was in England more to “observe” and “learn” which would ultimately enhance his development. Without being disrespectful to Bangladesh, the timing of a Test debut against the Asian nation at Potchefstroom’s Senwes Park is a far less daunting task than making your bow in foreign conditions against England.
“I think he has shown he has the potential,” said Cricket South Africa High Performance Manager Vincent Barnes. “He has shown in white-ball cricket for the Proteas that he definitely has the mental resolve for international cricket.
“Personally, I have actually always felt that he’s a better red-ball bowler. For all the skills he utilises in limited-overs cricket, he showed plenty of aggression on the South Africa "A’" team tour of Australia last winter. I really liked that. He bowled a quite a few bumpers and I thought he was really up there and troubling the Aussie batsmen.”
Barnes was also on the "A" team tour of Zimbabwe last season when Phehlukwayo bagged 5/62 in Bulawayo. It remains, though, his solitary first-class five-wicket haul. The former SA U-19 World Cup winner has played just 27 first-class matches, including this week’s Sunfoil Series clash, and has yet to score a century, with 67 not out still his career-best.
These statistics are not quite screaming at national selection convener Linda Zondi, but neither were Pandya’s numbers when he made his Test debut. The Indian rookie had an almost identical record to Phehlukwayo. But the Indian selectors had the vision to proceed with “Project Pandya”.
Barnes does have his reservations about rushing Phehlukwayo because “he’s dropped some pace since Australia” but believes if used in the correct role, he may turn out to be a diamond for Gibson.
“It all depends on how he is used. I think batting him at No 7 would be too high. But if it's seven specialist batsmen, including (wicketkeeper) Quinny (de Kock), and Andile comes in at No 8, then he could be a real asset, especially on the pitches that we’ll be playing the Bangladesh series,” Barnes explained.