KIMBERLEY, SOUTH AFRICA - JANUARY 10: Ryan McLaren of the Knights during the 2014 Ram Slam T20 match between Chevrolet Knights and Sunfoil Dolphins at De Beers Diamond Oval on January 10, 2014 in Kimberley, South Africa. (Photo by Louis Botha/Gallo Images)

Ryan McLaren and Wayne Parnell are the leading candidates to fill the gap created by Jacques Kallis’s retirement from the Test arena.

Andrew Hudson’s national selection panel will meet next week to decide on a 14-man squad for the first Test against Australia, which starts at SuperSport Park in Centurion on February 12. Acknowledging that it is impossible to replace a player of Kallis’s calibre, Hudson said the side will undergo a structural change that will see it lose the “seven batsmen strategy” that has been so successful for the Proteas recently.

“We can’t go with seven batsmen anymore. Jacques gave us that luxury in that we had a batting all-rounder. I think we’re probably going to be looking at a side that has six batsmen, the all-rounder, who will be the fourth seamer, a spinner and then the remaining seam bowlers,” Hudson said yesterday.

“We don’t have batting all-rounders, certainly not like Jacques, so that all-rounder will bat at No7 and will be a bowling all-rounder.”

Hudson mentioned McLaren and Parnell as the favoured options, saying of the former, who has played one Test, that “he won’t let the side down”.

Parnell has already played three Tests, all in 2010, and has at various stages of his career been let down by form and fitness.

However, this season he has appeared somewhere close to his best form and, while probably not as steady or dependable as McLaren, will provide what coach Russell Domingo a few months back described as an “X-factor” for the side.

There is a third option that Hudson didn’t mention, in the shape of Rory Kleinveldt who has been involved more recently with the Test side than the other two. Kleinveldt is a bruising but canny operator, who put in a courageous shift in the Adelaide Test 16 months ago, and he deserves some discussion when the selectors meet. He is also at a further advantage in that he’s played more Sunfoil Series cricket – four matches for the Cobras – this season than his probable rivals for the position, who’ve managed just one first class match each for their respective franchises owing to their commitments with the South African limited-overs squads.

The compact nature of the schedule for the series won’t be of as much concern to the South Africans as the Australians. The Australian selectors are considering calling up six seam bowlers for their touring squad as they’re wary of a schedule that sees them play one warm-up game with gaps of just three and four days respectively between the Tests.

Of more concern to Hudson and the national coaching staff are the slow starts the South African side has made to Tests in recent series.

Hudson highlighted the Abu Dhabi match against Pakistan last October, when South Africa lost for the first time in 16 Tests, and the Wanderers Test against India, where the home team were mostly second-best until the final afternoon.

“I don’t think just having net sessions is enough,” said Hudson.

“They will need time in the middle. We are looking at getting some kind of game together for them, just like the Australians are having a warm-up game in Potchefstroom against an SA Invitation XI, we want something similar for the Proteas, just so the guys can sharpen up.”

Cricket South Africa is understood to be planning a match against an Invitation team, but a venue and date for that fixture is still to be decided.

Hudson claimed yesterday that picking the squad for the first Test was being hampered by the T20 competition, though the Australians face a similar problem with many of their players involved in the Big Bash League. - The Star