Proteas squad ‘for full series’

Graeme Smith (Gallo Images)
Graeme Smith (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - The national selectors will be making a major statement about how they plan to rebalance the Proteas side henceforth in the absence of great batting all-rounder Jacques Kallis when they name the squad for the Australian Test series in Johannesburg on Wednesday (10:00).

Convenor Andrew Hudson confirmed to Sport24 on Monday that the squad - he would not disclose the exact tally of players to be included - will be for all three encounters, rather than a toe-in-the-water sort of selection only geared for, say, the first Test at Centurion from February 12.

That very fact seems to indicate that the wise men have a pretty clear idea, even given that there may be some room for flexibility within the broader party, of how to proceed in a new chapter for the No 1-ranked side without the services of the 166-Test Kallis, who had been overwhelmingly part of the furniture since his debut in late 1995.

“We knew this was coming (the adjustment to life without the 38-year-old) and the process has been about understanding the style of cricket we want to play on an onward basis and then putting in place the correct personnel for that.”

Hudson said the fact that the three Tests - SuperSport Park, St George’s Park and finally Newlands - had been scheduled roughly on a back-to-back basis, with no true “off” week during the series, had also influenced the decision to nail their colours to the mast for the duration.

Asked if the deliberations had been made even more complicated, post-Kallis, by concerns over AB de Villiers’s rehabilitation from a hand injury, he said that all reports at this juncture suggested the dashing batsman and wicketkeeper would be able to fulfil both responsibilities at Centurion.

That will come as a huge relief to Proteas enthusiasts: De Villiers is also an all-rounder in so many senses, given the luxury of his top-five status in the order while also wearing the gloves proficiently.

If De Villiers was able to play as a batsman only in the first Test, it would cause further “balance” snags and a likely dogfight between Lions team-mates Thami Tsolekile and Quinton de Kock for the vacancy behind the stumps.

And if he could not turn out at all, South Africa would be surrendering, over and above Kallis’s 13,289 Test runs, also De Villiers’s 6,827 at a not dissimilar average of 50-plus - a particularly dangerous downgrade of their known batting clout.

Hudson’s panel have only had the less than ideal yardstick of domestic Twenty20 cricket to employ as a form guide in recent weeks, given the lack of first-class activity, and he appeared to hint that the vastly different format would not sway their intentions to any notable degree.

That could mean, for instance, that they will resist at this stage the temptation to blood someone like Beuran Hendricks, the bright left-arm seam prospect from the Cape Cobras who leads the wickets column in domestic T20 with 21 scalps at an average of 10.04 - there is a lobby who believe he should be fast-tracked.

Hudson made the not irrelevant point that the Proteas have had a largely settled XI and immediate back-up pecking order at Test level for some time, and said that “you look for pedigree” in selection for the prestigious five-day format.

Perhaps, then - all various niggles cleared up by then - the Proteas XI to tackle Michael Clarke’s outfit at SuperSport Park will be the reasonably “sensible” one first mooted by many critics after Kallis announced his retirement at Christmas: Graeme Smith (capt), Alviro Petersen, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Ryan McLaren, Robin Peterson, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel.

Additional squad members would probably include Tsolekile (if it is decided that a gloveman should remain on close standby for De Villiers), Dean Elgar and either or both of Kyle Abbott and Rory Kleinveldt.

If South Africa do opt for the XI suggested, McLaren would be entering the mix as a No 7 allrounder, and a consortium of lower-order figures including himself, Peterson and the under-rated Philander would effectively be asked to pick up the run-scoring tab between them for the sudden lack of a proper “seventh batsman” in a remodelled team after Kallis.

Should the pitch turn out to be noticeably green-looking for whatever reason on match-day, the Proteas could also take the route of omitting left-arm spinner Peterson, getting part-timer JP Duminy to be the lone slow bowler, and then bring in an extra batsman while picking a frisky four-pronged pace attack that might feature strike factor Abbott instead of the perhaps more “holding” McLaren.

In order to get them back into first-class groove quickly, Hudson said squad players not chosen for the XI at Centurion would probably be freed to feature in the round of Sunfoil Series matches roughly coinciding with the first Test.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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