Cape Town — Strap in and get ready for the ride. Welcome to “Shuksball!”
New Proteas Test coach Shukri Conrad may not have wanted to label his cricket philosophy, but there’s no doubt this new era South African cricket is about to embark on has his ideologies imprinted all over it.
That was much confirmed on Friday afternoon when Victor Mpitsang, the former national convenor of selectors, was relieved of his duties. Right behind Mpitsang through the exit door was fellow selector Pat Moroney.
Conrad is now fully in control of the Test ship. And his first major decision was to appoint Temba Bavuma as its captain. Dean Elgar has not been jettisoned altogether, but he will now form part of the rank and file.
“Dean’s done an exceptional job over the last couple of years, and in my conversation with him that’s something I made clear,” Conrad told the media.
“But this was my decision. I felt Temba and I were a good fit, and Dean’s still going to play a huge part in our leadership group.
“This doesn’t make Dean a poor captain and Temba a good captain. But I felt this was the right fit for me and for us going forward. We’ve come a long way, Temba and I. He knows how I want to do things, and I’ve got a good understanding of how he wants to be involved and run things.”
Bavuma, 32, has been very vocal about his appreciation for Conrad’s “soft skills”, particularly during the recent ODI series victory over England which the Test coach oversaw in Rob Walter’s absence.
The new Test skipper, who has been relieved of his T20 leadership duties, displayed a refreshing mindshift change which filtered through to his batting with Bavuma striking a glorious century in the series-clincher in Bloemfontein.
“Our couple of days in Bloemfontein and Kimberley have gone a long way in consolidating the fact that Temba was going to be the captain,” Conrad added.
“Hopefully his performances will keep shining. He’s been a star performer for the Test side. I think captaincy sits well with him.”
Cricket SA Director of Cricket Enoch Nkwe backed up Conrad’s decisions, and supports the new rationale of the coach taking full accountability for his calls.
“We all felt the change in leadership was needed. We felt strongly that that person to take us into this new chapter was Temba. Dean has done a great job through stormy times in South African cricket,” Nkwe said.
“I’ve always believed the coach should have more of a say in selection and a better understanding of what is required, as long as it’s in line with CSA’s bigger strategy. It is going to be an interim phase, something we want to trial.
“But I believe the two coaches are the best positioned people to talk about selection. I have a lot of trust in our two coaches that we are going in the right direction. Shukri and Rob are going to be leading the selection structure with the respective captains.”
There were six further changes to the Test squad that were humbled in Australia recently with Sarel Erwee, Kyle Verreynne, Khaya Zondo, Rassie van der Dussen, Theunis de Bruyn and Lungi Ngidi all dropped for the upcoming two-match series against the West Indies.
Conrad has recalled Aiden Markram, who is set to open the innings alongside Elgar, all-rounder Senuran Muthusamy, wicket-keeper/batter Ryan Rickelton while Keegan Petersen has also recovered from injury.
The major notable new face is uncapped Western Province top-order batter Tony de Zorzi, who has received his first national team call-up.
“I don’t think anybody is in a position to say there’s never a way back in. You can never say never. But a change had to be made, and I made them. There’s always a way in. That was my conversation with the three players [Van der Dussen, Erwee, Zondo]. What must they do to come back in? Score lots of runs at domestic level at a good strike rate. If you want to play internationally you’ve got to dominate domestically not only the amount of runs but at the rate at which you score them.
“Tony’s career has gone in one direction, north rather than south. He’s someone I identify as a future captain. I’m chuffed with the way Tony has gone about his business, the fact that he’s scored a mountain of runs in the domestic season and in the A series against India is no surprise to me.”
Full Proteas Test squad for West Indies series
Temba Bavuma (captain), Gerald Coetzee, Tony de Zorzi, Dean Elgar), Simon Harmer, Marco Jansen, Heinrich Klaasen, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Wiaan Mulder, Senuran Muthusamy, Anrich Nortje, Keegan Petersen, Kagiso Rabada, Ryan Rickelton.
28 February — 04 March
South Africa vs West Indies — SuperSport Park, Centurion
08 March — 12 March
South Africa vs West Indies — Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg