Proteas selection conundrum for Lord's: Who makes the starting XI?

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The Proteas go into the first Test against England at Lord's on Wednesday with options aplenty. 

As is the case in their T20 set-up presently, it is difficult to pick an obvious starting XI, and with regular middle-order batsman Temba Bavuma out injured, there are some key decisions to be made. 

That applies to the bowling attack, too, where Keshav Maharaj and Simon Harmer could play together. 

Below, our Sport24 cricket writers have their say in a game of 'selector'. 

Rob Houwing 

The lack of a genuine, proven all-rounder anywhere in the SA squad ensures one obvious danger: they’ll either go in light on batting or light on bowling … and must simply decide on Wednesday morning (with a glance both up and down!) which formula seems likelier to work better.

It’s been a hot summer in England and with the Proteas’ seamers not having many miles in the legs, I am hugely tempted by the notion of fielding both spinners, Keshav Maharaj and Simon Harmer, to prudently spread the load.

A merely six-strong frontline batting unit, then, probably requires a leaning toward experience: hence my choice of Aiden Markram and Rassie van der Dussen at four and five, though as the series develops we may yet see roles for either of Ryan Rickelton or Khaya Zondo.

My team:
Dean Elgar (c), Sarel Erwee, Keegan Petersen, Aiden Markram, Rassie van der Dussen, Kyle Verreynne, Simon Harmer, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Lungi Ngidi.

Heinz Schenk 

Despite Dean Elgar’s relatively disdain for England’s “Bazball” approach to Test cricket – which I, ironically, admire of him – I believe the Proteas will have to some extent fight fire with fire, predominantly because being too passive risks them being overwhelmed.

Keegan Petersen has been in so early during his brief career as a Test No 3 that he might as well open the batting anyway with his skipper.

That allows for the selection of a more dynamic stroke-maker in the middle order.

To me that role fell to either Aiden Markram or Ryan Rickelton and I properly agonised over who to pick, if not both.

In the end, Markram gets the nod simply because he can bowl too.

There’s been ample evidence over the past year, to me, that batters mature after 30, so Khaya Zondo is in.

With the UK heatwave still going strong, pitches will surely be drier, explaining my spin-twin selection … and because Simon Harmer is non-negotiable.

The man has, after all, taken almost 400 wickets in England in five years. 

My team:
Dean Elgar (c), Keegan Petersen, Rassie van der Dussen, Aiden Markram, Khaya Zondo, Kyle Verreynne, Marco Jansen, Simon Harmer, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi
Aiden Markram (Getty)
Aiden Markram (Getty)

Sibusiso Mjikeliso

I went with a mix of last season’s Indian Test and New Zealand series performers blended with players that might thrive in England.

In the latter category, Simon Harmer fits the glove, having done it over many county cricket seasons.

But the injection of Khaya Zondo, who got runs under his belt in the warm-up, is the more sure-fire selection of a player with Temba Bavuma middle order qualities.

Bavuma being injured means the anchoring void is gaping and Aiden Markram, with his red ball struggles, can’t right now help fill it.

Although Markram could lengthen the bowling attack with his part-time spin, he presents a possible cheap wicket in the format.

Zondo, as inexperienced internationally as he is, has the 10 000 hours, so to speak, in the bank from doing the job for the Dolphins back home.

My team:
Dean Elgar (c), Sarel Erwee, Keegan Petersen, Rassie van der Dussen, Khaya Zondo, Kyle Verreynne, Marco Jansen, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Simon Harmer
Simon Harmer (Gallo)
Simon Harmer (Gallo)

Khanyiso Tshwaku

England's bellicose 'Bazball' approach has been so contagious, the England Lions caught their own version and took a second-string Proteas bowling attack to the cleaners in their warm-up game in Canterbury last week.

With Duanne Olivier out with a hip-flexor injury while Kagiso Rabada remains a doubt because of an ankle impingement, the bowling does look scarily thin against England's blazing batting group.

While SA's batting didn't quite come off in benign conditions in Kent, they've had time to adjust and adapt to conditions, but the balance remains an issue with no out-and-out all-rounder.

With the United Kingdom experiencing a scorching hot summer, England's bowling will have to toil as hard, but with no Temba Bavuma, a change in the batting group will be needed.

Will the out-of-form experience of Aiden Markram be trusted over the in-form youthful exuberance of Ryan Rickelton?

The latter has been in the runs in county cricket, but the former has also shone in white ball cricket for the national team.

That's the one selection headache, along with whether there will be the need to play two spinners with parched conditions expected, but with no proven all-rounder, the batting has a long tail to it, while its hard to find a place for Khaya Zondo when he doesn’t offer a bowling option.

My team:
Dean Elgar (c), Sarel Erwee, Keegan Petersen, Aiden Markram, Rassie van der Dussen, Kyle Verreynne, Keshav Maharaj, Simon Harmer, Marco Jansen, Anrich Nortje, Kagiso Rabada

Lloyd Burnard

Markram or Zondo? How many spinners?

Those, for me, are the two burning question facing Mark Boucher and the selectors ahead of the first Test. 

Both Markram and Zondo were in the runs in the warm-up game against the England Lions last week, and while it would be agonising for the latter to come so close only to miss out once again, Markram does look like he is seeing the ball very well presently. 

I have personally been calling for a Markram move to No 4 in the Test side for years now, and this seems the perfect opportunity. 

Then, despite Simon Harmer's proven success in England, I'm backing Keshav Maharaj as the only spinner in the side despite his nightmare in the warm-up game. 

With Kagiso Rabada struggling with an ankle injury, the seam department will need to be well stocked, so Marco Jansen and the variation that comes with his height and left-arm pace gets the nod. 

My team:
Dean Elgar (c), Sarel Erwee, Keegan Petersen, Aiden Markram, Rassie van der Dussen, Kyle Verreynne, Marco Jansen, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Lungi Ngidi

Which of our scribes do you agree with? Who has it right? What changes would you make? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below ... 

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