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Cricket: Test debut looming for Stiaan van Zyl

Cricket: Test debut looming for Stiaan van Zyl

Cobras Southpaw Stiaan van Zyl is set to make his Test debut against the West Indies when South Africa begin their summer season on 17 December in Centurion. There’s also an apprentice opportunity for two of South Africa’s future stars. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

The South African Test team could, conceivably, boast two new Test caps by the time the series against the West Indies concludes. Cricket South Africa announced the squad to play against the West Indies on Tuesday and it is packed with new faces.

With JP Duminy out confirmed to be out injured for the first Test, opportunity lurks for Cobras southpaw Stiaan Van Zyl, who has forever been sitting on the fringes of the Test side. Barring injury, there is absolutely no reason that Van Zyl should not make his debut come 17 December 2014.

He  topped the domestic four-day competition’s run scoring charts last season with 933 runs at an average of 58.31. He was also the second leading run-scorer the season before with 673 runs at an average of 57.80 and has consistently pushed for selection but has always missed out. When Alviro Petersen sat out during the Test against Australia in Port Elizabeth earlier this year, Van Zyl was on standby, but missed out because coach Russell Domingo felt that Quinton de Kock better suited the progression of the team.

This time, Van Zyl should be wearing South African Test colours, but is likely to do so for one Test only. Duminy should return to fitness for the Boxing Day Test in Port Elizabeth, in which case Van Zyl will go back to being on the fringes.

However, with Alviro Petersen under scrutiny, it is possible that Van Zyl could eventually shift to an opening role if Petersen’s form continues to flail. He has not scored a Test century since the New Year’s Test in 2013 and averages just 24.47 in the 13 Tests since then. With a busy year coming up for South Africa in 2015 – with a tour to India and hosting England over the South African summer – South African selectors might want to try out a few other options.

It could potentially mean that, if Duminy does not recover by the third Test and selectors want to get a feel for the potential by dropping Petersen, Temba Bavuma could be given a debut in Cape Town.  Like Van Zyl, Bavuma had a solid season in 2013-14 with 714 runs at an average of 39.66 and more recently performed well when the South African A team toured Australia. He scored 217 runs at an average of 108.50 across two games against Australia A, and is best known for his ability to accelerate down the order. That remains an unlikely scenario, it could offer a glimpse into the future of the South African team.

Also included in the squad is young Kagiso Rabada. He shot to fame during the Under-19 World Cup earlier in the year and is only now in his first full season of franchise cricket. Rabada remains unlikely to play, but  South Africa’s strategy of introducing new players to the environment is nothing new. Rabada also toured with the South Africa one-day team which toured Zimbabwe earlier this year while Van Zyl and Dane Piedt travelled with the team to Sri Lanka.

None of those travels came at the cost of first-class cricket, though. Should Rabada and Bavuma, both Lions players, remain with the side for the entire tour, they will both miss one first-class game. Since the Lions match is scheduled for 18 – 21 December, if neither of them play in the first Test, they will most likely be released back to their franchise for the match before returning to the squad. The next Lions four-day game only begins on 8 January, so they could travel for the full tour without missing out on any important cricket.

From a bowling perspective, spinner Dane Piedt, who so impressed on his debut in Zimbabwe, remains on the injury list and there is no space for Imran Tahir. Instead, Robin Peterson has earned a recall, but might not feature until the Boxing Day Test, by which time Piedt might have recovered from his surgery. Kyle Abbott is in the team and with the Centurion track always full of pace and bounce, South Africa might very well opt for an all-pace attack. Duminy’s absence does mean that there is nobody to turn to for part-time spin, but with Van Zyl set to play, both he and Elgar could offer some very part-time bowling options should it be required.

The only two notable omissions are Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Wayne Parnell. Tsotsobe, only just back from injury, has had his fitness and work ethic issues in the past, but has upped his game in recent months. He, like Parnell, offers a left-arm bowling option to add variety to the attack. Still, neither of those players would displace the three front line bowlers. Kyle Abbott, who did make the side as a back-up bowler, is in good form and had a stellar Test debut at Centurion, where the first Test will be played.

All in all, the squad is well-balanced and the addition of potential future players offers a learning opportunity for the youngsters lurking on the fringes. It’s now up to them to make sure they seize their opportunity. DM

Full South African Test squad: Hashim Amla (capt), AB de Villiers (vice-capt), Alviro Petersen, Dean Elgar, Faf du Plessis, Stiaan van Zyl, Quinton de Kock, Vernon Philander, Robin Peterson, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Temba Bavuma, Kyle Abbott, Kagiso Rabada

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