Uncapped Levi looks to bring energy to SA team
Wynberg Boys' High School in Cape Town last produced a national cricketer in 1995. His name was Jacques Kallis. Sixteen years later, another of their pupils is ready to represent South Africa. His name is Richard Levi. To say he has big shoes to fill is an understatement.
"Jacques is probably the best cricketer in the world at the moment, so it's an unbelievable pedestal to look up to," Levi said. "We are quite different players but being brought up in the culture of Wynberg, we both enjoy and respect the game. Unfortunately I won't be able to play with him, which I was really looking forward to, but hopefully one day soon."
Levi is the only uncapped player in South Africa's Twenty20 squad and has been rewarded for ending third on the run-charts in the domestic twenty-over competition in which he scored 258 runs and three half-centuries. He also made an impression in the Cape Cobras first match of the Champions League T20 with a fluent 43 off 27 balls.
His international career was threatened before it even began when he was hit on the head by a Wayne Parnell bouncer during a practice session on Monday. "I got seven stitches in the back of the head but the rest of the boys and everyone else has been taking care of me so I am alright now," he said.
Although Levi has not been given indication of what his role will be if he is in the starting XI, he could well open the batting with either Graeme Smith or Hashim Amla or bat at No. 3 or 4 in the absence of AB de Villiers. It's an exciting prospect for a rookie and something Levi hopes to take full advantage of. "If I do get selected over the next two games it will be an unbelievable experience. I will look to bring youth and exuberance and to put in as much energy as possible."
While South Africa may be blooding a new player in Levi, the series could also teach some old hands new skills. Morne Morkel will have to lead the pace attack because Dale Steyn is being rested for the Twenty20 internationals, and Morkel says he has been working towards a more authoritative role for some time. "It's one of the things I have targeted," he said. "If one day something happens to Dale I have to be ready to lead the attack. Over the past couple of seasons I have grown personally so I am ready for it."
Morkel has played in two first-class matches since the start of the season, bowled one ball short of 57 overs and taken six wickets. He said the games were enough to "get rid of all the little niggles and aches and pains you get as a fast bowler," and he is now ready for international competition.
With Morkel the senior fast bowler, an interesting contest is expected between him and Delhi Daredevils team-mate David Warner, who is coming off back-to-back centuries for New South Wales in the Champions League. Morkel is ready to embrace the battle. "The most important thing is not to stand back and fight fire with fire," he said. "Let's see who can win that battle. Conditions here will be completely different; it's something the Australians need to get used to especially after preparing and playing in India so hopefully we can get the upper-hand there."
One of the bowlers who will support Morkel is left-armer Lonwabo Tsostobe. He made a positive impression in the series against India earlier this year and will want to build on that. Tsotsobe said he sees the new season as a chance to make a "fresh start" and that the South African team culture has created the conditions to enable him to do so. "We've got guys like Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn; whatever you do wrong, they are always backing you up. It's in the team culture that people lift you up," he said. "They want you to be your own leader so you don't have to wait for the captain to tell you something, you have to be the leader of your own space."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent