Depleted Proteas face examination of depth and fortitude against rising Bangladesh
South Africa Test captain Dean Elgar played a straight bat over the loss of key players to the IPL during the two-Test series against Bangladesh, but he has a mammoth task ahead.
Proteas skipper Dean Elgar will face the biggest examination of his credentials as a leader and an opening batter when he guides his callow team into a tricky series against the rising Bangladesh, without the benefit of his frontline seam bowling unit.
Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje and Marco Jansen are away on Indian Premier League (IPL) duty. They will not feature in a home series which is crucial for the Proteas’ to claim points on the World Test Championship table.
With an away series against England to come later this year, earning maximum home points against one of the so-called weaker teams in the Championship is vital.
That task has been made infinitely more difficult for Elgar without his major wicket-talking weapons. The four strike bowlers have taken 365 Test wickets between them — Rabada has bagged 243 in 52 Tests. Ngidi has claimed 47 in 13 Tests, Nortje 47 in 12 Tests and Jansen 28 in just five outings. These are not small holes to fill, especially when they are all missing at the same time.
South Africa are without 82 Tests worth of bowling experience and a further 46 Tests of batting prowess with Rassie van der Dussen and Aiden Markram also at the IPL.
“A lot of events have happened since my last interview around this very topic,” Elgar said at a media briefing on Monday in relation to comments he made earlier this month where he hoped the players would choose country over money.
“I’m comfortable where I sit with the players who aren’t here. I’ve had some really good, in detail chats with those players just to find out where they are mentally. I’m very comfortable with the answers that they’ve given me,” Elgar said.
“Be that as it may, they’re not here with us and we have to make do with our next best that we have in the country, who I’m still very confident in. Yes, we’ve lost a few Test caps along the way not having the IPL players with us, but it’s a great opportunity for those guys to stand up and put those other players under pressure. I’m confident they can do that.”
Cricket South Africa (CSA) and the South African Cricketers’ Association (Saca) have a clause in their memorandum of understanding that players may be released for IPL duty, even if it clashes with Proteas fixtures.
Elgar knew that but he still pleaded for loyalty to trump money three weeks ago. On Monday though, Elgar, who normally openly speaks his mind, was far from his usual bullish self. He hinted that he might have been gagged on the subject.
“I’m pretty confined with regards to what I can and can’t say,” Elgar said. “The players were put in a bit of a situation with regards to making themselves available.
“I’m sure they wouldn’t have made a rash decision if it didn’t mean a hell of a lot to them. I’ve had conversations with the players and I know where they stand with regards to the Test side and playing Test cricket.
“I think they were put in a situation that was unavoidable, bearing in mind that quite a few of the guys have never had IPL experience before. I don’t think they wanted to hurt their opportunity going forward in the competition.”
Without the quartet of fast bowlers (Nortje is still struggling with a hip injury) Duanne Olivier and Lutho Sipamla are set to lead the attack in the first Test in Durban. Either Lizaad Williams or Daryn Dupavillon will play as third seamer.
Because the nature of the Kingsmead wicket in recent years has been low and slow, it offers the opportunity for the Proteas to add in-form spinner Simon Harmer into the attack alongside regular spinner Keshav Maharaj. Wiaan Mulder is likely to play as bowling all-rounder.
In terms of covering the batting, Keegan Petersen, who was the man-of-the-series against India during the summer, returns to the lineup after missing the recent New Zealand tour due to contracting Covid.
Petersen will slot into the No 3 batting position, which Markram occupied during the New Zealand series while Elgar and Sarel Erwee renew their newly formed opening partnership.
Van der Dussen’s place will fall to either the uncapped Ryan Rickelton or Khaya Zondo now that Zubayr Hamza is ruled out due to testing positive for a banned substance.
Bangladesh, currently coached by former Proteas mentor Russell Domingo, have improved drastically and were deserved winners of the recent one-day-international (ODI) series. Those three matches were all played on the highveld, where Bangladesh’s seam bowling unit revelled in the fast, conditions.
Is it not a blessing then that the Tests, at Kingsmead and St George’s Park, will be played on spinner friendly pitches considering South Africa has lost its strike bowling unit?
Elgar was having none of it.
“I still think our best Test cricket is played on the highveld,” Elgar said. “I’ve got no say over scheduling and venues. Hopefully, in the future that can change, but I’d still be extremely happy to play against these guys on the highveld. I don’t think we’ve got any fear about that. We play our best brand of cricket in that area.
“But even though we’re playing in conditions that are lower and slower, we can adapt. I’ll play them anywhere. I’ve played against mighty cricket nations on really tough surfaces on the highveld, and we’ve had a lot of success out of that.
“I’m not too fazed about us playing on slower or quicker wickets. I just think we need to nail down our basics again. That doesn’t change from venue to venue.”
Bangladesh bowling coach Allan Donald used his media briefing to talk up the remainder of South Africa’s seam bowling unit.
“For South Africa without Rabada, Nortje, Ngidi it’s going to be a challenge for South Africa but their backup seamers are very good,” Donald told reporters on Monday.
“It’s a great opportunity for guys like Sipamla, he played the second Test against New Zealand and Duanne Olivier we all know what he can bring. Daryn Dupavillon is someone you have to look at. He is an aggressive fast bowler and bowls 140km/h all day long,” he said.
“It’s time for some of those guys to shine. I have seen these guys in the domestic circuit and they have done really well and put up their hand for selection. In two Test matches you have 10 days to put your name up and say that pick me for the future.” DM