Topping England will be ultimate prize for Proteas

2011-12-08 00:00

THE upcoming series against Sri Lanka and New Zealand presents Andrew Hudson and his team of selectors with some interesting selection options. It affords them the opportunity to blood new players but also to consolidate the strong core of players they selected for the abbreviated series against Australia. The home series against Sri Lanka and the tour to New Zealand will be viewed as a building phase towards the all-important tour to England in July 2012.

The South African selection panel has announced their squad for the first Test match against Sri Lanka to be played at Centurion next week. Titans paceman Marchant de Lange has powered his way into the squad with some lightning-quick right-arm bowling.

De Lange impressed for South Africa A against the Australians taking 5-56 and edges out Lonwabo Tstsobe. Out of the squad are Paul Harris and JP Duminy, making way for opener Alviro Petersen. Should Petersen make the final team sheet, it’s likely that versatile Jacques Rudolph­ will be favoured over much-tried Ashwell Prince at number six. Mark Boucher retains the gloves for the first Test match and will view this as a golden opportunity to improve his poor form with the bat. As a keeper, I feel he’s the right man to go to England. His mental toughness and grit are invaluable to the Protea’s lower order.

In my opinion, the team that took on Australia contains the right core of players to go to England in 2012, and although it’s a good idea for the selectors to experiment with new blood leading up to the tour of England it’s important to give players like Jacques Rudolph and Imran Tahir a good run.

Gary Kirsten and the selectors will need to put the performances of players, especially newcomers, into context during the upcoming series. There is more of an opportunity for players to shine against weaker opposition and, without wanting to sound too confident, neither Sri Lanka or New Zealand present too much of a threat to South Africa.

Sri Lanka has endured a tough time on and off the field of late. They have yet to win a Test match this year and have been embroiled in a protracted pay dispute with the Sri Lankan Cricket Board. The board has withheld payment to its players for the past eight months while it awaits $4,3 million from the International Cricket Council for the co-hosting of the World Cup. The payment has been delayed while the ICC awaits the findings of an audit — as if motivating a team who has lost six out of seven Test matches played in South Africa isn’t hard enough for captain Tillakaratne Dilshan.

Mahela Jayawardene remains upbeat though regarding Sri Lanka’s chances against South Africa and has admitted that they enjoy wearing the underdog tag. As a team they are light on experience and rely heavily on seasoned Jayawardene (currently struggling with a knee injury) Kumar Sangakkara and Dilshan.

New Zealand were completely outclassed by a resurgent Australia in the first Test match in Brisbane and will be hoping for better fortunes in the second Test in Hobart. Although New Zealand has fared better than Sri Lanka recently it has to be said this was against minnows Zimbabwe.

So while victory in the upcoming series against Sri Lanka and New Zealand will be sweet for South Africa, toppling Test champions England off their number one Test perch next year, remains the ultimate prize for the Proteas.

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