JOHANNESBURG – When South Africa’s tour ended in England – with defeats in every format and a group-stage exit in the ICC Champions Trophy – there was rightly a bit of despondency about.
So the players and new coach Ottis Gibson were very thankful to Bangladesh for being so, err, poor.
The Bangladeshis were devoid of belief and at various stages it appeared ability too, but they were just the kind of opponents South Africa needed to restore some confidence.
Even in the absence, in the Tests, of some major names such as AB de Villiers, Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and (for one Test) Morné Morkel, the Proteas were dominant.
A new opener in Aiden Markram could acquaint himself with Test cricket, Andile Phehlukwayo, who’s still played less than 30 first-class games, has some Test caps and wickets, and the batsmen have had their self-belief restored after a wretched tour to England (wretched for everyone bar Dean Elgar, of course) by making 10 hundreds against the Bangladeshis.
And now with India and Australia on the horizon, they’ll have De Villiers back – and a hungry one at that.
In South African conditions, where the ball tends to do a bit, skipper Faf du Plessis favours a structure of seven batsmen, three seamers and a spinner (unless it’s a pitch like the one at the Wanderers last season for the Test against Sri Lanka, then South Africa will play an all-pace attack).
In De Villiers’ absence recently, there was much conjecture over who should slot into the No 4 spot, with the now retired (from Test cricket) JP Duminy initially occupying that position, then Quinton de Kock and most recently Temba Bavuma.
However, although somewhat unfair on Bavuma, who is deserving of an extended run at No 4, De Villiers will be back in that position for the day-night Boxing Day affair against Zimbabwe and then the series against India starting on January 5 at Newlands.
Where Gibson, Du Plessis and the selectors will have a major headache is the composition of the attack.
Keshav Maharaj should start, as does the now fit-again Philander, whose batting at No 8 is almost as important as his bowling.
Kagiso Rabada can’t be left out, having carried the attack in the last year, which leaves a choice between Steyn and Morné Morkel.
Gibson says Steyn plays if he says he is fit – which we will all be able to judge over the course of the T20 Challenge that starts next week.
If that’s the case, then Morkel – following a superb series in England, and arguably bowling the best he ever has before his injury – would have to sit out.
Morkel has held discussions about his international future with Gibson, specifically regarding his role in the one-day international side.
He might though have to make do with just a bit-part role in the Test team – only playing when conditions suit – as may be the case for two of the three Tests against India, which will be played on the Highveld.
But will that be enough for him?