Cape Town – While the batting remains collectively a concern for the moment after the mental and statistical bruising experienced in India, the South African national selectors can hardly be faulted for some of their steps to ensure renewed stability.
Linda Zondi’s panel acted sensibly in at least three areas of that department when they named their Proteas squad on Thursday for the first two home Tests of four against England.
One area of contention, of course, is the unexpected decision to restore the wicketkeeping responsibility to AB de Villiers, who is already carrying an unhealthy burden as the team’s most reliable current batsman, and not to recall Quinton de Kock, who would probably have enhanced South Africa’s health in the top seven considering his recent form at the crease.
But for other strategic moves on the batting front, the selectors cannot really be faulted, and here’s that promised trio of reasons:
*Returning Temba Bavuma to the middle order
As previously indicated on Sport24, I would have supported retention of Bavuma as an opening batsman for the first Test at Kingmead, purely on the grounds of his plucky showing in a makeshift capacity in the final Test against India in Delhi.
He looked both determined and technically competent, and as Kepler Wessels said “if you don’t try, you won’t know” whether he might do the business in South African conditions at the top of the order – an area where the Proteas have looked a little unsure since the retirements of seasoned men like Graeme Smith and Alviro Petersen.
But there is an equally good case for saying that Bavuma, still only the recipient of five Test caps, is better suited to furthering his development a few rungs lower down, in habitat to which he is much more familiar.
The very best of openers would be vulnerable to early dismissal at often-humid Kingsmead at the hands of James Anderson or Stuart Broad, and it is possible the diminutive Lions player’s confidence would take a knock if he were horribly exposed “early doors” on challenging local tracks.
*Recalling Stiaan van Zyl to an opening spot
The wisdom of moving Bavuma down simultaneously means that the wise men have revisited their faith in left-hander Stiaan van Zyl at the top.
Again, no complaints from this critic.
Dropped for the Delhi Test after a serious struggle in the first three against India, they have taken the sagacious approach in believing they can write off Van Zyl’s troubles in those unusually taxing, sometimes lottery-like conditions and “start him over”, as it were, as an opener.
The blond Cobras representative had been making sound progress in the Test side ahead of India, whether in the middle order or at the top, and the stated resumption of his partnership up front with Dean Elgar confirms that the pair are viewed as the immediate future in berths one and two.
Nevertheless, remember that Kingsmead from Boxing Day will be Van Zyl’s maiden crack as an opener in the home Test environment.
*Adding Rilee Rossouw to the greater Test squad
He looks like being the designated “spare” batsman for the time being in the 13-strong squad, but the left-hander from the Knights is an extraordinary, hard-hitting talent – as we have already noticed in an on-the-up career in both SA limited-overs sides.
Yet Rossouw is also much more than a potential match-winner in cricket’s shorter forms – he has shone for SA ‘A’ several times previously in their unofficial “Tests” and built up a robust first-class average over several seasons.
It currently stands at just under 45 (44.83, and a total of 5,470 runs).
Rossouw has notched 18 centuries at first-class level, including a career-best 319 – all of those runs registered in a single day’s play in a then-SuperSport Series outing against the Titans at Centurion in March 2010.
His maiden call-up to the Test group is proof that perseverance can pay off, despite the unique challenges players sometimes have to overcome for recognition in our complex country.
Rossouw is a rightful next cab off the rank, and will put pressure on the likes of JP Duminy, who is skating on thin ice performance-wise, for a berth somewhere in the middle order.*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing