Cape Town - A straight shootout between one-day international captain AB de Villiers and Twenty20 counterpart Faf du Plessis for the Test reins.
That remains the likeliest scenario for filling the massive vacancy left by Graeme Smith as national captain in the game’s most prestigious format after more than a decade at the helm.
But it is believed that Cricket South Africa, in the course of the appointment process, wishes to cast the CV-examination net a bit wider than just the former Affies schoolmates.
Andrew Hudson’s selection panel will make their recommendation for skipper to the CSA Board for its final approval.
Hudson told Sport24 on Tuesday: “The Board meets in early June; we need to make a recommendation before they meet.”
A month ago, while also saying there was “no rush” in announcing Smith’s successor as the Proteas’ next assignment in the format is in Sri Lanka in July, CEO Haroon Lorgat was quoted as saying: “My recollection of the process is that the board confirms the appointment ... I would support that approach; it’s a big appointment.”
The name of senior batsman Hashim Amla is likely to feature anew as a “possible”, even if he has occasionally in the past been all too willing to ditch leadership when it has been thrust upon him either at international or domestic level.
Last year Amla even stepped down as limited-overs vice-captain as he felt it only fair given that he did not wish to make the bigger step up.
But the 31-year-old, with 76 Test caps and a stellar average of 51.35, has also never totally slammed the door shut on leadership; he has been more and more involved strategically on the field for the Proteas in recent times, particularly since the Test side has gradually haemorrhaged such old hands as Mark Boucher, Jacques Kallis and more recently Smith.
His arm is likely to be twisted to at least “give it a go” as a captaincy candidate for the Test team: he is a suitably wise, calm and serene character, comfortable and approachable in a media relations capacity and a popular presence in the dressing room where he is never associated with any particular clique or faction that may exist from time to time.
A left-field option, however, is thought to be middle-order batsman and off-spinner JP Duminy, who turned 30 in mid-April and has matured enormously both as player and in the “PR” department.
Some people might wish to argue, not without merit, that Duminy has not yet quite made his Test spot beyond all doubt, as evidenced by a batting average of 34.71 after 24 appearances.
But he did average a shade under 45 in the recent home series against Australia, where he scored a century in the lone SA win at St George’s Park.
Duminy is also now, when conditions allow for it, a truer all-rounder than before, because in the post-Kallis environment he is sometimes the designated main spinner, allowing the Proteas to field a four-man seam attack – something that may occur increasingly on home pitches, although ill-advised for, say, the Subcontinent.
It is also just possible that the responsibility of captaincy might bring out the best in the little left-hander in personal performance terms at five-day level: stranger things have happened to players worldwide.
Of course his place in South Africa’s one-day plans is totally firm, as evidenced by Duminy and Dale Steyn making the “team of the tournament” after the recent ICC World Twenty20 in Bangladesh where the Proteas reached the semi-finals.
Nevertheless, he has no significant prior first-class track record in captaincy, so that only underlines his “long shot” status if, indeed, his claims are discussed.
Encouraging a bigger list of candidates for the reins than just De Villiers and Du Plessis seems an intelligent enough approach by CSA. Even if certain outsiders for the role don’t eventually crack the nod, the process may serve as a healthy reminder that various, pretty established players must contribute fulsomely now as motivators, mentors and strategists in the wake of several stalwarts stepping out of the fray.
Wicketkeeper-batsman De Villiers is no doubt the public favourite for the job, just given the type of assertive, crowd-pleasing and “magazine cover” cricketer he is; counting against him is the perception that he must not become too burdened with multiple chores in the national set-up in order to maximise his purely playing gifts.
But Du Plessis also looks more and more of a strong-jawed character in captaincy.
His Proteas team may have fallen a bit short again at the World T20, but a noticeable stride made was in temperamental sturdiness under pressure – a welcome change from several past ICC events where South Africa have .... well, yes, choked when much higher rated beforehand for prosperity than they were in Bangladesh.
Presumably both captain and the coach, Russell Domingo, are due their share of credit for that.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing