You’re batting at Centurion or the Wanderers. Who’s the last South Africa bowler you would like running at you, new ball in hand, old mayhem in mind? Kagiso Rabada, of course. To be named in the squad Rabada has not recovered from a groin injury in time to play Tests at those grounds from December 26 and this is why Sri Lanka will be quite relieved.
Not so fast. Lungi Ngidi has been picked. As has Anrich Nortje. Batting on two of the fastest pitches in cricket is going to be easier for the Lankans than they could have expected. But not by much. The home side’s other pace options, Beuran Hendricks, Wiaan Mulder and therefore the uncapped Glenton Stuurman, aren’t anywhere as menacing. That said, they bring other attributes. Hendricks’ left-arms, for instance, and Stuurman can move the ball ways.
The only casualties in that department from the squad that finished the series against England in January South Africa’s batting has a more familiar look. That was Faf du Plessis’ swansong as captain.
He remains within the mix, but contrary to earlier indications Quinton de Kock will lead the side until the top of the season.
The burden of the wicket-keeping duties could be taken off from the shoulders of De Kock by the Newbie Kyle Verreynne.
Markram is that the leading run-scorer therein competition, because of reeling off centuries in his last three innings. Erwee is merely 47 runs behind him, albeit from another innings.
A former South Africa under-19 captain and a major talent and Allrounder Wiaan Mulder who has had to recover from too many injuries for someone who will turn 23 in February, has also cracked the nod having scored a century and 91 in five innings within the first-class competition.
In the 15 Keshav Maharaj is the only spinner and it cannot be considered least due to the venues involved. South Africa’s captains contemplate unleashing all-seam attacks only at Centurion and the Wanderers.
They arrived having won just one of their previous 13 Tests in South Africa, but the narrative was rewritten once they prevailed by one wicket at Kingsmead and by eight wickets at St George’s Park. The test series was claimed first time by an Asian team. Again, the clue is in the venues.
Sri Lanka’s only other win within the country came within Kingsmead – by 208 runs in December 2011, when Rangana Herath took 11/128 – and that they drew their other Test there. just once before they had played at St George’s Park, in December 2016 when they were dismissed for 205 and 281 and South Africa won by 206 runs.
The decision was made in our ignorance or arrogance on putting the Lankans in Durban and Port Elizabeth last year.
Hence they will expect to be taken more seriously than ever this point. Not only will South Africa have a point to prove, but they also will not have played Test cricket for 11 months when the Centurion match starts, in the brave new world of covid cricket they will be doing this under a new captain. Within the wake of England truncating their white-ball tour over virus fears, South Africa needs to the proving.
Maharaj, Markram, Du Plessis, Bavuma, De Kock, Elgar and Mulder were within the South Africa squad selected for Sri Lanka’s last Test series here. So were Hashim Amla, Theunis de Bruyn, Duanne Olivier, Vernon Philander, Rabada, Dale Steyn and Hamza, who far various reasons aren’t around this point.
So much has changed since last February. When some of South Africa’s best bowlers are running at you it’s still not much fun batting at Centurion or the Wanderers.