DURBAN – In naming the latest South African Test squad, the national selectors have again emphasised the high esteem in which they hold the ultimate format of the game.
Given Sri Lanka’s significant struggles against pace in Australia recently, the selectors may well have opted for a different strategy, and utilised the Test series that starts in Durban next week as a chance to look into the future.
Instead, they have named their strongest possible side, and also included two young players who are anticipated to be the future of SA cricket.
Zubayr Hamza showed enough glimpses of his potential during his 41 on debut against Pakistan recently.
He appears to have all the shots and, more than that, all the mental qualities necessary for the highest level.
Hamza built on that promising showing for the Proteas by notching a double century against the Dolphins in the last round of the Four-Day Franchise Series.
He now looks to have the inside lane on Theunis de Bruyn in the battle for middle-order places, especially with captain Faf du Plessis back in the team after his suspension.
The other youngster in the side is one that Cricket SA has much hope invested in. Wiaan Mulder, at just 20, has been earmarked as that all-rounder who can provide the team with adequate runs and wickets for years to come.
He had produced those goods at age-group level, but injuries have not yet allowed him the extended opportunity to show that those skills can graduate to the highest level.
Should Mulder get his chance and grab it, he could significantly alter the balance of the team.
Mulder was part of the Highveld Lions squad that snatched the four-day title on the final day of the competition, and it is no coincidence that their change in fortunes arrived at the same time he came back from injury.
The noises being made by the youngster are all very good, and the national panel of selectors and advisors have kept a keen eye on his return to top-level action.
— Cricket South Africa (@OfficialCSA) February 8, 2019
Kagiso Rabada was handed a much-welcomed rest against Pakistan in the T20 series, but he and Dale Steyn return to lead the line against a Sri Lankan side that will be pleased that both Tests are taking place on slower, coastal tracks.
Kingsmead has lost much of its mongrel in recent years, while St George’s Park is renowned more for reverse swing and an encouraging breeze.
Sri Lanka have even stolen a win in Durban, but their personnel nowadays will do well to take both Tests to four days.
There is a chasm in class and urgency between both sides, and it may be a case of out of the Australian pot, and into the Proteas fire for the visitors.
SA are adamant that they want to be nigh on unbeatable on home soil, and they have traversed some pretty tough opposition in their last three home assignments.
India, Australia and Pakistan have all been dealt with, and Sri Lanka ought to be a comfortable outing – before England come to try and upset the applecart next summer.
Proteas Test Squad
Faf du Plessis, Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Theunis de Bruyn, Quinton de Kock, Dean Elgar, Zubayr Hamza, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Wiaan Mulder, Duanne Olivier, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn.