Tough choices for conveners ahead of Sri Lanka tour
Andrew Hudson has enjoyed a largely painless, successful ride for the majority of his five years convening the national selection panel, but he always knew there would be a time when he would be the focus of much probing, doubting attention. That time will be Monday morning, when he sits down with the other six members of his panel to choose the Test and One Day International squads for July’s tour of Sri Lanka.
The panel will face as many hard questions in a single meeting as they have in most of the past four years. The next 10 months are heavily weighted towards the one-day game, with only six Test matches scheduled compared with somewhere between 30 to 35 ODIs, including the World Cup in March next year.
The Proteas’ demotion to number two in the International Cricket Council Test rankings caught everyone by surprise but, important as that status is, the immediate onus must be on the 50-over game and compiling a squad to make it past the knockout stages of a World Cup.
“We had a 15-point lead not long ago and then suddenly we were number two. I thought we had enough of a cushion not to worry about that until the end of the year but that’s obviously not the way they work,” Hudson told the Mail & Guardian this week.
Who will open the batting? Dean Elgar is an obvious choice in the Test XI but his partner is far from certain, with Alviro Petersen averaging 37 after 30 Tests and a queue of promising youngsters waiting for a chance. Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla formed a fine partnership last season and this will persevere, leaving AB de Villiers to lead the middle order and roam the covers.
A unique niche needs to be found or created for Jacques Kallis that maximises his strengths – composure and experience – and does not inhibit the more free-scoring players around him. Can he still be a frontline bowler and bat at number three? Early form in the Indian Premier League suggests he can.
Should the 38-year-old really be expected to play every match between now and the World Cup? If he is, it would be on a misguided point of principle. What does Kallis have to prove? Either he is appreciated and wanted, or the time has come to move on.
Hudson has said he will definitely be in the ODI squad for Sri Lanka and Kallis has said on several occasions that he expects no favours or reputational advantage, so that appears to be settled for now.
Does Robin Peterson still have a role to play – in either format? Perhaps it is time to move on to the new generation of spinners with Dane Piedt and Simon Harmer at the front of the line. Is 36-year-old Imran Tahir a T20-only spinner now?
There are two further burning issues that will be discussed. The appointment of a new Test captain in place of Graeme Smith and the inclusion of more black African players in national squads are not mutually exclusive subjects as the elevation of AB de Villiers to the leadership would create the perfect opportunity for the country’s most deserving black “reserve”, wicketkeeper Thami Tsolekile.
“We are all on the same page with regard to transformation and, particularly, the need to see more black African players at franchise level and then at national level,” Hudson said. “The holistic picture is something we are conscious of and there is a desire to see progress, so efforts will be made to change the numbers.”
To that end, Cricket South Africa transformation manager Max Jordaan and the high-performance coach Vinnie Barnes will both sit on the selection debate but will not have a vote. Linda Zondi, who played three first-class games as a wicket keeper for KwaZulu-Natal, is the compulsory black selector but, even with the best will in the world and the talent-spotting skills of a genius, he cannot be expected to manufacture match-winners from thin air.
He may, however, suggest looking at South Africa’s World Cup-winning under-19 squad, and he is likely to receive support if he does. The national demand for black players has long since overtaken the natural and cautious desire to nurture players early in their careers. It may lead to a call-up for 18-year-old fast bowler Kagiso Rabada. Convention does, indeed, suggest it would be premature but there is an alternative school of thought: if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.
The other full-time selectors are Hussein Manack, Shafiek Abrahams and coach Russell Domingo.
“There is a lot to discuss and many decisions to be made,” Hudson admitted, although Smith’s successor will not be announced yet.
“As selectors I hope we will reach a consensus of opinion but the procedure from then is that we will present our recommendation to [chief executive] Haroon Lorgat who will then take it to the board for final approval,” Hudson said.
As official vice-captain to Smith, AB de Villiers is the front runner to succeed him.