JOHANNESBURG – Originally this round of four-day franchise matches squeezed into the calendar at the end of the Mzansi Super League and before Christmas was to give the national players a run - a sort of transition from the shortest format to the longest - but injuries, especially on the bowling front, have hampered that plan.
Ottis Gibson’s caution is perfectly understandable. Lungi Ngidi played no part in the MSL after picking up a knee injury in Australia that means he won’t face Pakistan at all over the next seven weeks, while Vernon Philander has a hairline fracture of his right thumb and will sit out the opening Test at SuperSport Park next week.
So Duanne Olivier, Kagiso Rabada and Dale Steyn have all been told to rest ahead of preparation for the Boxing Day Test, and will play no part in this week’s four-day matches.
Theunis de Bruyn (back) and Temba Bavuma (hamstring) will also not be in action for the Titans and Highveld Lions respectively. Once again the caution being practised is understandable.
There is not much time between Test matches; just three days between the first and second, and four between the Newlands Test and final match at the Wanderers. It does cause some concern for coach Gibson, who would have wanted those two to get in some game time against the red ball this week.
De Bruyn is still trying to establish himself in the Test side and wants to build on his second innings century in the Proteas’ last Test against Sri Lanka in July.
Bavuma had very limited game time for the Durban Heat in the MSL, playing just four matches and scoring five runs in three innings.
Meanwhile, Highveld Lions - and Jozi Stars - coach Enoch Nkwe said he’ll be using the Christmas break to reflect on his first big title as a coach in South Africa. The Stars pulled off a remarkable triumph in the MSL, but so short is the turnaround since the final in Cape Town on Sunday that Nkwe has barely had time to think what it all meant to him.
His Lions players were put through their paces at training yesterday ahead of today’s start against the Dolphins at the Wanderers.
Of particular importance for the batsmen was maintaining their shape at the crease and showing patience, while Nkwe wants his bowlers to adjust from bowling T20 lengths to “red ball lengths”.
In the absence of Bavuma, the Lions will be captained by Rassie van der Dussen, one of the form players in the MSL. The match starts at 10am.@shockerhess