The big picture for South African cricket right now is over hauling Australia as the best Test and ODI team in the world. That will mean beating the top ranked Aussies in their series, in Australia and then South African, starting in December. Before that there are ODI’s against Kenya and Bangladesh, followed by two Tests against Bangladesh. While South Africa will not take their opponents lightly, they did so in the last World Cup, where Bangladesh beat them comfortably leading to South Africa facing Australia in the semi finals, they will however use these games as warm ups for the Australia series.
The past has seen South Africa fail to capitalise on the opportunity to experiment, especially in Tests, and put out a perceived strongest eleven at all times. While this approach is not without merit, it puts added value on Test and ODI caps, and ensures that the best team is always put out, giving more respect to opponents and the paying public. It does however have many failings as well. On South Africa’s last tour, to England, they managed to win the Test series, something they did for the first time in England since the 1960’s, and had the opportunity to give those who had not featured a game in the final Test, a dead rubber. They did not. They lost the Test and followed that up with a trouncing in the ODI series. The intensity was missing from the final Test, with a feeling of mission accomplished permeating through the team. JP Duminy and Monde Zondeki had been rewarded for strong domestic form with places in the touring squad. Yet neither played. Zondeki was not part of the ODI squad and so went home after a few months of touring and carrying out the drinks. Had they been picked they would have raised the intensity of the squad, as they had something to play for if the others did not, as well as gaining experience that may be needed down the line. It would have also been Duminy’s Test debut. South Africa failed to utilise that opportunity.
Which ever way you look at it the resting, or dropping, of Ntini and Nel gives South Africa a chance to plan for the future. And that is what this series is about. They had hoped to introduce Ryan McLaren to the international fold, but that was but on hold my Kents refusal to release him from his Kolpak contract. Zondeki, Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn will use these games to showcase their ability with the new ball. Hashim Amla will put forward his case for inclusion in the ODI team, and to show that he is far more than just a Test batsman. Justin Ontong will be given a chance to show that he is better than his international record suggests, while Herchelle Gibbs will be out to prove that his international career his not over just yet. And Johan Louw will be given his international debut against Kenya on Sunday. With Kolpak contracts robbing South Africa of much of his cricketing depth, Louw will be out to show that there are experienced domestic performers who have much to offer when called upon.
While it is good that South Africa will be using the ODI’s to give chances to those on the fringes and to try things out, they must not stop there. The Tests should also be used to move South Africa forward. This means giving Duminy is Test debut, and a starting place in both Tests, and giving Zondeki a chance to stake a claim for a Test bowling place. It would have been an ideal time to introduce Tsotsobe to international cricket, but they young opening bowler will have to wait longer for his taste of international cricket, but the chance to give Duminy and Zondeki game time must not be wasted. Duminy can not be expected to make his debut in Australia should injury keep any of the current Test batsman out.
While South Africa should win both series against Kenya and Bangladesh there is much still to watch, particularly on an individual front.
pic from cricinfo.com