“The key to success is playing the hand you were dealt like it was the hand you wanted.”
That could easily have been Proteas Test coach Shukri Conrad’s mantra when he sat down to select the South Africa A squad to face West Indies A later this month.
While this would normally be a routine exercise, Conrad was faced with an altogether different challenge this time around because of circumstances surrounding next January’s Test tour to New Zealand, which coincides with the Betway SA20 at home.
With the majority of the country’s players unavailable for the tour – including Test captain Temba Bavuma – because of SA20 contractual obligations, Conrad has been left with slim pickings.
But instead of moping around, Conrad has cast his net far and wide in a bid to put together a capable squad, while simultaneously manoeuvring the West Indies A series as preparation for his motley crew.
The Proteas red-ball mentor left no stone unturned, going all the way to Washington DC in the US to lure former Proteas off-spinner Dane Piedt with a Ben Stokes-Moeen Ali Ashes-like text.
Piedt, 33, had no hesitation in returning home, and has already shown that he’s lost none of the fizz and turn that earned him 26 wickets in nine Test matches with a fivewicket haul on debut for the Knights in division 2 of the 4-Day Series in Bloemfontein last week.
“New Zealand is going to be a tough tour, and we are going to need leadership and some strong characters – and Piedtie ticks all those boxes,” Conrad said.
“He also brings a lot of experience on the spin front. So, apart from being in form, he brings a helluva lot to the side.”
Conrad also said he had been on the phone to English county coaches all winter ascertaining the progress of certain players, which had also led to the inclusion of Durham top-order batter David Bedingham and Nottinghamshire seamer Dane Paterson.
Bedingham’s inclusion is hugely significant after the 29-year-old had seemed lost to South African cricket just a couple of years ago – with him wanting to qualify for England.
But after some honest conversations with Conrad, the former Wynberg Boys High School prodigy has committed himself to Western Province and South African cricket.
He has already enjoyed a hugely successful 1-Day Cup campaign, where along with Paterson, the duo helped WP to the first domestic title in eight seasons.
A further integral member of the WP championship-winning team, young all-rounder Mihlali Mpongwana, has also been included in the SA A squad for the first time.
Conrad has, however, not only been busy putting his playing squad together, but has also significantly beefed up his coaching staff, with former Proteas Test batter Ashwell Prince recruited as the Proteas’ Test batting coach for the new season.
“Ash and I have been spending a lot of time together of late, and I did say a few months ago, when we last played Test cricket, that when we play India, I want a settled Test batting unit,” he said.
“That is very much on track. I know the talk at the moment is New Zealand, but the big Test series for us remains India here at home – which precedes New Zealand – and everything is geared towards that.
“He (Prince) brings experience, both from a playing and coaching front. We all know what Ash is about as a cricketer and a person.
“Resilience, determination, desire to want to go out and front up … That’s everything that South African sport is all about. That ticks every box for us.
“We are all aware of what lies ahead in terms of settling that unit and how we want to play our cricket – and Ashwell is a really good fit when it comes to that.”
South Africa A Squad
Neil Brand (captain), David Bedingham, Ruan de Swardt, Tony de Zorzi, Clyde Fortuin, Zubayr Hamza, Tshepo Moreki, Mihlali Mpongwana, Duanne Olivier, Dane Paterson, Keegan Petersen, Dane Piedt, Raynard van Tonder, Hardus Viljoen, Khaya Zondo.