Vilas' damp debut opens door for keeper's spot
When Dane Piedt made his Test debut, South Africa played and won their first Test in Zimbabwe in more than a decade, and he took eight wickets. When Stiaan van Zyl made his Test debut, South Africa beat West Indies by an innings and 220 runs in four days and he scored a hundred. When Dane Vilas made his Test debut, South Africa were caught in a cyclone in Dhaka, at least three days were washed out, and the series was doomed to a draw.
Of the recent Test debutants from the Cape, it is unfortunate that Vilas drew the short straw. While the others got debuts to remember, his has been one that will easily be forgotten.
"I was really, really excited to get that cap and get on the field and then a little bit disappointed as well with all the rain around," Vilas said after the third successive day in Mirpur was washed out, taking the total number of washed out days in the series to five. The rain would have increased the frustration levels of all the players, especially Vilas, many times more than that.
The weather has thrown a wet blanket over his hopes of showing what he is capable of, in what is his only opportunity to push for a place in the Test side ahead of South Africa's high-profile series against England and India.
There have only been 88.1 overs bowled in the game and Vilas has been in the field for all of them; he has taken two catches standing up to the spinners and also conceded five byes. So at the very least, he has been noticed.
His first grab was test of reflexes; Momimul Haque waited late to play a JP Duminy delivery that had a hint of extra bounce and Vilas reacted quickly to take the resulting edge. The second catch was more straightforward, when Mushfiqur Rahim came forward to defend a Dean Elgar delivery that turned sharply and took the edge. Vilas is known to be a competent, confident gloveman in the domestic set-up and he transferred that to international level. He was often heard on the stump microphone urging on bowlers, even the senior members of the pace pack.
What Vilas did not get to do, though, was show why he has earned a first-class average of 41.00. With the amount of time lost in the game, he probably won't be able to even if play is possible on the final day. That will concern him because Vilas will know that ultimately, his batting ability was why he replaced Quinton de Kock in this Test. De Kock is struggling for runs, not catches. If anything, de Kock has improved as a keeper in the last year. If Vilas does not get the chance to out-score de Kock, Vilas could find himself ousted and he knows it.
"Quinton is a fantastic player. He has done brilliantly. I have no doubt he will be knocking on the door, scoring runs again and putting pressure on everyone," Vilas said.
If there was no cricket between now and the India series, Vilas would not have to worry about de Kock scoring runs again and finding form. However, even though South Africa's domestic season only kicks off in October, when the national team travel to India, they are sending an A side as an advance party. The limited-overs tri-series, which also includes Australia A, starts this week and will be followed by two unofficial Tests. Both Vilas and de Kock are part of that squad, and the pressure is on to prove themselves.
It may be difficult to fit both into the same XI, so they may get a game each or one of them may be sent back home to play in the limited-overs series against New Zealand if AB de Villiers does not keep wickets for those matches. De Villiers did not play in the Bangladesh Tests after requesting time off for paternity leave, but will be back for the India and England series, and could keep wickets if the selectors want to keep Temba Bavuma - who batted in de Villiers' spot at No.5 and scored the only South African half-century during the Chittagong Test - in the side. That would leave no room for either de Kock or Vilas.
Bavuma will also be on the A tour to make a case for himself and remind both de Kock and Vilas that they not only face pressure from each other, but from other batsmen too. For now, Vilas sees that as a positive because it will keep him on his toes and his eyes on the prize of playing for South Africa.
"Competition is healthy and it shows the strength of our domestic cricket," Vilas said. "Everyone wants to get into this team with the stars that we've got - Dale Steyn, Hashim Amla, those guys. Everyone wants to represent the country." But only one wicketkeeper can.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent