Cricket: Trials for Test berths – not a bad place for the Proteas to be

Cricket: Trials for Test berths – not a bad place for the Proteas to be

It’s less than two months before the Proteas return to the Test arena to start a jam-packed summer. While the Test side doesn’t need too much fiddling with as it stands, two players are in contention for a recall. JP Duminy and Wayne Parnell have both been sent to play with the A-team as the two-match series against Pakistan draws closer. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

There is little over two months left before South Africa begins a jam-packed summer of cricket and Russell Domingo tackles his first series as head coach. It’s not an easy first job, either. The Proteas head to the United Arab Emirates for a two-Test series against Pakistan which will be topped off with five one-day internationals and two T20s.

Domingo has already had his baptism by fire for the shorter formats, but the Test arena remains uncharted territory. South Africa has not been beaten in a Test match since December 2011, when the team lost against Sri Lanka in Durban. There’s plenty of pressure on the new coach to keep that record intact, as well as the record of not having lost a series away from home since the Proteas played Sri Lanka in 2006.

It’s a good thing, then, that the Proteas brains trust is taking a progressive approach to picking the best eleven for the trip to the UAE. On the surface, there is little wrong with the current Test side. It features a good mix of experienced players, dotted with a few newbies who have made stellar debuts. However, that side can still get better.

Wayne Parnell and JP Duminy are both in contention for a recall to the side and both players have been added to the South African A squad to play two four-day games against India A this month.

Duminy was sidelined after a horrific injury last year and Parnell fell out of favour for the longer format after just three Tests in 2010. For Duminy, a Test recall should be almost a certainty as Dean Elgar has not lived up to expectation in his role. Duminy’s been in fine form in the shorter format of the game, but Domingo and company have ushered him into the A-team to make sure he gets as much four-day cricket under his belt as possible. Barring implosion with the bat, it’s hard to see why Duminy won’t earn a recall. He also offers something extra by being able to turn his arm over when it is needed.

Parnell is the more curious option. His spot won’t be anything more than a reserve bowler as Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander will continue to spearhead the attack, but an injury to either could see him leapfrog Rory Kleinveldt and Kyle Abbott. Abbott made his Test debut against Pakistan earlier in the year and picked up nine wickets while Kleinveldt has managed just 10 scalps in the four Tests he’s played. Parnell, who struggled with injury throughout last season, is finally back to being fully fit. As a left armer, he does offer something that neither Abbott nor Kleinveldt does.

Abbott has been with the A-team for their two first-class games against South Africa, but managed just three wickets in each match. However, those figures are a harsh judgement since the pre-season tracks in South Africa are unforgiving on bowlers. To cast Abbott aside so easily might be harsh, but a selection pickle isn’t the worst problem for South Africa to have, and it’s the progressive thinking which is encouraging to see.

Over the last two years, The Proteas have built a reputation as one of the most destructive forces in world cricket. Although they have had their struggles, the end result has always fallen in their favour. They have three batsmen in the top ten rankings list, while Steyn and Philander occupy the top two spots in the bowlers’ list.

The only concern that remains is of those who have not played any cricket in the off season. The fitness of Graeme Smith is a particular worry. He was due to spend the off-season with English County Surrey, but had to undergo ankle surgery in May. Although he was targeting an October return – just in time for the start of South Africa’s tour – the nature of the operation means that a question mark still hangs over his head.

Alviro Petersen has been in action with Somerset and has scored 562 runs in six first class games at an average of 46.83.

Jacques Kallis has not played competitive cricket since May this year while Dale Steyn, who has struggled with injury, has not played since the Champions Trophy. Steyn should be fit, though, but there might be some concern over his workload. The quick has rarely suffered injury in his illustrious career, but the impact of bowling across so many formats might finally be starting to affect him.

Philander has been playing some cricket – in both first class and T20 for Kent in England and more recently in the T20 games in the Caribbean Premier League. He had mixed returns with Kent, especially in the first class format where he went wicketless in two games.

In the Caribbean Premier League, he has taken five wickets thus far, but the format is so far removed from Test cricket that it’d be foolish to read too much into it.

From the outside looking in, the bigger picture looks bright for the Proteas. The Test team is in fine fettle and Domingo shouldn’t need to do too much in order to ensure their success lingers for a little while longer. Adequately planning for the future is where the real hard work starts, but with a consistent string of A-team tours and a competitive first class structure in place as well as a new High Performance Centre in the pipeline, the South African team will be forgiven if they kept their rose-tinted specs on for a bit longer. DM

Photo: South Africa’s Wayne Parnell and JP Duminy celebrate the wicket of India’s MS Dhoni (not in picture) during the one day international cricket match at Kingsmead Stadium in Durban, January 12, 2011. REUTERS/Rogan Ward


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