Has Stephen Cook done enough to save his Proteas career with his hundred in Adelaide?
You would think so, especially since he was largely a lone hand in the second innings as South Africa could only muster a 126-run lead as they were dismissed for 250.
Hashim Amla (45) was the one other batsman to score more than 26 as Cook’s 104 gave the visitors a semblance of hope to pull off an unlikely 3-0 series win.
But with the Boxing Day Test against Sri Lanka in Port Elizabeth just less than a month away, the big call facing selection chief Linda Zondi and his panel is: Who must AB de Villiers replace?
Zondi has already stated that De Villiers will regain the captaincy from Faf du Plessis – that’s a topic for another day – and being one of the best in the world, De Villiers should walk straight back into the side from an elbow injury.
And that means Cook has to be in danger of losing his place. The Lions stalwart ended a run of low scores with his gritty 104 in a losing cause at the Adelaide Oval, but that may not be enough to secure his place against Sri Lanka.
The 33-year-old’s technique has been at fault in many of his dismissals, as he is vulnerable to a full delivery outside off-stump as he plays from the crease without much foot movement. He knows and acknowledges his limitations, but feels that if it has got him this far, he might as well just stick to it.
But even if he works hard in getting forward to the new ball, the fit-again De Villiers must be accommodated. None of Amla, Du Plessis, JP Duminy and Temba Bavuma should be in danger of the axe.
Duminy has rediscovered the touch that had deserted him for a few years on this Australian tour. His majestic 141 at the Waca in Perth was one to remember, and even though he didn’t get past 26 in his five other innings, he is one of the senior members of this Proteas side, and also showed good form in the 5-0 ODI whitewash over the Aussies in South Africa.
The 32-year-old is playing with the freedom of his early years, and being a left-hander also counts in his favour to provide variety in the batting line-up.
Bavuma contributed a crucial 51 in that difficult first day in Perth, and a brilliant 74 to set up the victory alongside Quinton de Kock on a green-top in Hobart.
That leaves Dean Elgar as the only other option to make way for De Villiers. Elgar scored a hard-working 127 in Perth to resurrect a shaky Proteas second innings at 45/2, with Duminy, and South Africa ended on 540/8 declared.
Elgar’s four other knocks produced 5, 17, 12 and 0. But what counts in his favour is that he has a compact technique and is renowned for his fighting qualities at the crease during his 45 Test innings in 29 matches. He averages 35.72, with Cook on 39.90 after 10 innings in six games.
It’s a tough call between the two, and the other issue is that if one of Elgar or Cook is dropped, someone else will have to open the innings. The easiest option would be to shift Amla up one position, as he already does it in ODIs, although Test cricket is a different beast altogether.
But as a senior player, he would be within his rights to object. De Kock was outstanding at the top against New Zealand, although he and Zondi said previously that it is not a long-term solution.
Zondi, though, did tell Independent Media before the Australian tour that De Kock could still open “if the game situation or conditions demands it. But at the moment, we are going with the guys we’ve got there. For a keeper to open the batting might be challenging, but at least it gives us an option – it is an option and we are quite excited about that.”
With De Villiers back in the mix, is it time to exercise the De Kock option again?