The race for Test selection: How South Africa’s fringe players are faring
South Africa have named an unchanged 16-man squad for the second half of the ongoing four-match series against England but there is unlikely to be any tinkering to the XI that lost at Newlands. Though defeated, South Africa found a decent balance to their team, with Pieter Malan slotting in seamlessly in place of the injured Aiden Markram and the two allrounders, Vernon Philander and Dwaine Pretorius, providing plenty of bowling options. Still, the selectors always like to know their cupboard is well-stocked and will turn their gaze to the first-class competition, where the surplus members of the squad were deployed earlier this week. Here’s how they performed:
The most talked-about man in South African cricket, Temba Bavuma had the perfect platform to push for a Test return when he walked in to bat with the Lions on 170 for 2 in their match against the Knights at the Wanderers. Bavuma hit two fours off the first 12 balls he faced and a reporter on the scene described him as looking energetic and full of intent. Too much, perhaps.
Off his 18th ball, Bavuma pulled Corne Dry straight to the fielder at short square leg to end his innings on 9. The Lions dominated the rest of the match and he was not needed to bat again, which is likely to leave him on the fringes for the rest of the Test summer. It doesn’t help Bavuma’s cause that his replacement, Rassie van der Dussen, enhanced his reputation with his performance in Cape Town. His first-innings 68 was the second half-century of his two-Test career while his more than four-hour vigil at the crease in the second innings contributed to taking South Africa to within 50 balls of saving the match. Van der Dussen is set for an extended run in the Test team, which may mean Bavuma will have to wait for another injury, or for Faf du Plessis’ lack of form to reach critical levels, to fight his way back in.
Part of the reason Bavuma did not get to bat again was the form of his Lions’ team-mate, left-arm seamer Beuran Hendricks. He took seven wickets in the match to contribute to the Lions’ comprehensive win.
After the Lions posted 358, Hendricks took two wickets in two overs early on in the Knights innings to reduce them to 75 for 5. He returned to take two more in two overs at the end of the innings as the Knights were bowled out for 158 and made to follow-on. Hendricks picked up exactly where he left off in the follow-on and claimed the first two wickets of the Knights’ second innings to leave them 17 for 2 late on the second day. His final wicket came deep into the Knights’ second innings, when their lead was below 10. They ended up setting the Lions a target of only 20.
Hendricks’ form may not be enough to force his way into the Test team right now, but he will doubtless be in the selectors’ minds for the future. Not only does he offer control, but the variety of that left-arm angle, something South Africa have not had since they experimented with Wayne Parnell, who last played a Test in 2017.
The Cobras’ Dane Paterson is the only one of the reserves set to travel with the Test team to Port Elizabeth, with the rest due to remain with their franchises for another round of first-class cricket. That must mean Paterson is closest to the starting XI and his performance for the Cobras showed why.
Paterson took 1 for 13 in 11 overs after opening the bowling against the Dolphins, and conceded at an economy rate of just over one run an over for the rest of the first innings, in which the Dolphins were bowled out for 174. His second-innings figures of 2 for 57 saw him climb to fourth on the tournament wicket charts with 21 wickets at 21.80 this season and the lowest economy rate of the top 10 bowlers: 2.82. With Vernon Philander’s retirement coming at the end of the series, Paterson may be putting his hand up as the replacement.
Allrounder Andile Phehlukwayo has been told he needs to work on his bowling to become a Test player but on a spinner’s wicket in Oudtshoorn, his batting shone. He top-scored for the Dolphins with 61 in the first innings to register his sixth first-class half-century and starred in a 91-run sixth-wicket stand with Cody Chetty to ensure the Dolphins scored over 150 in a disappointing first dig. With wickets falling to the Dolphins quicks and Senuran Muthusamy (3 for 92 and 7 for 36), Phehlulwayo was only required to bowl four overs in the first innings and none in the second, where the Dolphins skittled the Cobras out for 86 to win the match.
As a means of comparison, Dwaine Pretorius put in 11 overs in the first innings of the Newlands Test and 16 in the second, which will tell Phehlukwayo the kind of load he will have to be able to carry if he is to included at some stage. Again, Philander’s retirement could open up a spot for him, but only if there are more overs under his belt.
The back-up wicketkeeper and middle-order batsman in South Africa’s squad, Rudi Second scored a half-century for the Warriors against the Titans but was overshadowed by his team-mates Sinethemba Qeshile and Eddie Moore, whose names have also been mentioned in connection with national selection. Qeshile’s 77 was the top score of the Warriors first innings of 305. He helped them take a slender 11-run lead over the Titans, for whom dropped Test batsmen Theunis de Bruyn scored 54.
In the second innings, Second managed just 13 runs while Moore top-scored with 98 and is now second overall in the tournament standings, and Qeshile was unbeaten on 57. At 30, Second will know his chance has not passed, especially after three recent debutants of the same age: Malan, van der Dussen and Pretorius. But he will also know that unless big runs come soon, he may be eclipsed by brighter stars.