Getting team composition right for Test crucial to Protea’s chances

2014-03-01 00:00

CAPE TOWN — Graeme Smith studiously avoided dropping hints about South Africa’s team composition for the Test series decider against Australia at his captain’s press conference at Newlands yesterday.

Getting the mix right could be crucial to the Proteas’ chances of becoming the first SA side since 1969/70 to win a home series against these opponents.

Reading between the lines — though even that can be hazardous at times — it would appear that the chances of specialist spinner Robin Peterson being included have only receded, if anything, and that with cooler and possibly slightly moist, overcast conditions tipped for the first two days’ play, the hosts will stick to a four-seamer principle and put their turning faith in part-timers JP Duminy and Dean Elgar.

The only anticipated alteration to the “seven batsmen” formula will be the return of fit-again Alviro Petersen to the top of the order, with rookie Quinton de Kock dropping out and Elgar returning, a little unfortunately perhaps, to a middle order slot where he is less suited.

Perhaps the most tantalising remaining question, against that backdrop, is which of Kyle Abbott, Rory Kleinveldt or Ryan McLaren will then do the job of fitting in for luckless Newlands absentee Wayne Parnell.

Good knowledge of local conditions works in favour of Cape Cobras stalwart Kleinveldt, but he has wrestled some minor fitness concerns of his own of late and if there is the slightest doubt, he is simply not worth fielding on this critical occasion where Smith rightly says the “eyes of the world” will be focused.

That would leave a shoot-out between McLaren, who played in the heavy first-Test reverse at Centurion and was pole-axed by Mitchell Johnson while batting on the borderline dangerous surface, and in-form Sunfoil Series factor Abbott for the vacancy.

A personal view is that the Proteas should go for the jugular and give the ambitious Abbott his keenly awaited second cap at this level, for unrelenting firepower from the pace division.

But McLaren, who would also be less pressured as a batsman because he would only be required at number eight rather than seven this time, remains a decent option and possibly the likelier one given the conservative yet simultaneously pretty clear-cut way the Proteas structure their pecking order in Test terms.

If the ground is enveloped by fair amounts of cloud up front in this Test match and the temperature stays as expected only in the low twenties — after earlier heat-wave conditions in this city — then seamers who can bowl accurately on a fullish length could see some rewards and McLaren fits that bill quite nicely.

The Proteas would also boast comforting general batting depth against Johnson and company, with McLaren and Vernon Philander (or the other way around) occupying the spots as low as eight and nine.

Asked directly for news on his XI, Smith replied, “We’ve got an idea where we want to go; Russell [Domingo, the coach] is meeting Andrew [Hudson, the selection chief] at 3 pm [yesterday] and it will be confirmed then. I am getting a little reluctant to announce our team the day before games ... That 24 hours [to the actual start] does seem a bit interesting!”

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