While the chances are that South Africa would have gone into the second Test against England, starting on Friday, with an unchanged eleven, despite a less than impressive display in the opening Test, they may now be forced into a change with a doubt over the fitness of Neil Mckenzie.
Opener Mckenzie, who scored 40 and 138 in the opening Test, has a groin strain, sustained in his mammoth, match saving, ton in the second innings. Shortly before his dismissal he called for a runner. Mckenzie, a middle order batsman, has returned to the international fold, after a 4 your absence, as an opening batsman, and has scored centuries in the three series played, against Bangladesh, India and now England, including a career best 226 against Bangladesh, when he featured in a world record opening partnership of 415 with Graeme Smith.
Should Mckenzie not be fit for the Test his place will go to JP Duminy, who will make his Test debut. Duminy is a talented stroke player who will have a bright Test future for South Africa, but has had to wait for his chance to break into the Test team. He has put in some solid ODI performances in the past year to cement his place in the ODI middle order. In 28 ODI’s Duminy has scored three 50’s, with a highest score of 79*, at an average of 36,35. The majority of his runs have been scored in the last year as he looks to establish himself in the South African middle order. He is seen as one of the most talented batsman in South Africa and it is just a matter of time before he makes the leap to Test cricket. He could get his first taste this weekend.
Should Mckenzie not play, and while he is a doubt the South African staff still believe he will play, there is no doubt that Duminy will play, being the only batsman in reserve. The debate will be where he bats. In the opening tour match Duminy opened the batting with Mckenzie. He is not an opening batsman and it would probably be a risk to open with him as England, with it’s early swing, is a place where specialist opening batsman are needed. So Duminy should be asked to bat at 5 or 6, to ease him into the fold. The opening birth should then go to AB de Villiers, who began his Test career as an opening batsman, and is well capable of doing so again. But if South Africa want to keep de Villiers at 6, a role he is being groomed for when he takes over the glove work of Mark Boucher, there other option is to open with a middle order batsman on a temporary basis. They would look for someone who has the technique and temperament to do so in England, someone who will be able to cope with the early bowling conditions. Kallis would be the best option, as he has the best technique and record of all the South Africans, and as he has batted at 3 for most of his career, is well used to going in at the loss of an early wicket, effectively opening.
Those are the options that South Africa have, should Mckenzie not play. The best one would be to open with de Villiers and put Duminy in at 6. South Africa will be hoping that Mckenzie comes through his fitness test okay and is available for Friday, but should he not be, the selection of Duminy could be the beginning of a career for a new South African star.