JOHANNESBURG - Cricket South Africa’s independent selector Linda Zondi and head coach Mark Boucher have certainly given themselves enough options for the first two Tests against England, by picking a 17-man squad.
Calling up so many players is indicative of the accelerated process that has had to occur in the last week following the almost complete breakdown of CSA’s administration. It has meant Boucher, who had been coaching the Tshwane Spartans in the Mzansi Super League had to quickly change focus, while Zondi, who was still trying to apply for the convenor of selectors position, had to don that hat immediately.
Justifying why players were selected given the current environment in SA cricket is hard. The four-man selection group; Zondi, Boucher, assistant coach Enoch Nkwe and skipper Faf du Plessis, have had to rely on some old form, a bit of their own insights about certain individuals and a “gut feel”.
There are six uncapped players in the squad; Rassie van der Dussen, Beuran Hendricks, Dwaine Pretorius, Rudi Second, Dane Paterson and Pieter Malan. “The high number of uncapped players coming into the squad is a reflection of our policy to acknowledge players who do well at franchise level and have put their hands up for selection,” said Zondi.
And if that remark had been made last season, then in the case of Malan, Van der Dussen, Second and Hendricks, it would be understandable. Last season Second averaged over 40 for the Knights, coming off the back of two seasons in which he scored over 800 runs in 2017-18 and nearly 700 runs the season before when his then team the Knights won the four-day series title. This season in four matches for his new team, the Warriors he has scored 220 runs at an average of 33.21.
In 2017-18 Malan scored 892 runs for the Cape Cobras and backed that up with 821 runs last summer, but this season, he has scored just one century and he is averaging 33.16.
Even though Van der Dussen is averaging 76.75 in the Four-Day Franchise Series this season, half of his 307 runs came in one innings and he has been in a slump in the Mzansi Super League.
This season Pretorius has been relatively consistent with both bat and ball for the Highveld Lions in the four-day series, but Hendricks has played just two four-day games, picking up three wickets and while Paterson is currently the second highest wicket-taker with 18, half of those came in one match as well.
But for now, it’s what South Africans will have to accept, such has been the turbulence in the sport in the last two years, which has been ratcheted up still further in the last month.
Boucher, who was still coaching the Spartans yesterday in the final of the Mzansi Super League, will have to quickly turn his attention to preparing the Proteas, in what is a ludicrously short amount of time for a Test series of this magnitude.
According to his boss, the new interim Director of Cricket, Graeme Smith, the majority of players, including skipper Du Plessis, will go into camp for a few days, to try and get in tune with Boucher’s way of thinking. There is also a strong school of thought that given the players have mostly played T20 cricket for the last seven weeks, and some very little of that because of the weather, that they should be involved in this week’s round of four-day matches.
England are coming off a tour to New Zealand where they played two first-class matches followed by two Tests and will have another three-day first-class match against the SA A team before the first Test at Centurion.
Such is the chaos that has been created by CSA’s administrators, that it is hard to know which is the right ploy for Boucher and his coaching staff to follow especially given that the first two Tests of the series will be played back-to-back.
The Proteas Test squad:
Faf du Plessis (capt), Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Dean Elgar, Beuran Hendricks, Keshav Maharaj, Pieter Malan, Aiden Markram, Zubayr Hamza, Anrich Nortje, Dane Paterson, Andile Phehlukwayo, Vernon Philander, Dwaine Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada, Rudi Second, Rassie van der Dussen.