'Third seamer the key for South Africa' - Arthur
Mickey Arthur, the former coach of South Africa, believes Lonwabo Tsotsobe can hold his place in the Test side despite the expected inclusion of Imran Tahir. The balance of South Africa's attack will change if the selectors hand a debut to Tahir, who would be the first right-arm wrist-spinner to play for South Africa since their readmission to Test cricket.
An aggressive Pakistani-born legspinner who qualified to play for South Africa in January, Tahir is likely to debut in the first Test against Australia in Cape Town next month. It will be quite a shift for South Africa, who for years have relied on the left-arm spinner Paul Harris to hold down one end while the fast men attacked at the other.
However, Harris lost his central contract this year and is not expected to be part of the Test series. Arthur, who now coaches Western Australia, believes Tsotsobe will need to play an important containing role in Harris' absence.
"The key will be the third seamer if they want to play the legspinner," Arthur told ESPNcricinfo. "By all accounts it looks as though they will be playing Tahir instead of Paul Harris. Harris did a really good job for us at one time. He performed his role to unbelievable ability. He did everything that we wanted from him.
"He stopped the game for us. He allowed our strikers to come on and strike. But that attack changes when you have a legspinner, because the legspinner becomes a strike bowler and the third seamer has to become a workhorse. It will be interesting to see who they pick there; I suspect it will be Tsotsobe."
Tsotsobe has played five of South Africa's past eight Tests but nine wickets at 49.77 was hardly the return he would have hoped for. However, Arthur believes Tsotsobe is a man who can "bottle the game up", while the new-ball strike bowlers Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel provide the major threats.
The inclusion of Tahir, 32, will be an exciting development for South Africa, after he made his ODI debut during the World Cup this year. He took 14 wickets at 10.71 during his five games in that tournament and Arthur said while he was a wicket-taker, he would also give Australia's batsmen opportunities to score.
"He is an aggressive bowler, always looking for wickets," Arthur said. "He's a strike bowler. In between those major wicket-taking deliveries you'll get balls you can put away as well. So again, that's why the balance of the attack is so key."
The other major selection issue for South Africa surrounds the batting line-up, with AB de Villiers likely to miss the Test series due to a hand injury. One man building a strong case for inclusion is Jacques Rudolph, who has made 54, 80, 118, 19, 210 and 87 for the Titans this season, and could play his first Test in five years after placing his international career on hold to pursue a Kolpak deal with Yorkshire.
"South Africa have a very settled top order," Arthur said. "Whether or not they pick Jacques Rudolph is going to be interesting because there is a spot open with AB de Villiers being injured. I expect them to go with Smith, Alviro Peterson, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, and then two of Rudolph, Ashwell Prince and JP Duminy. Rudolph has had an unbelievable start to the domestic season so I think he will definitely come in to the mix."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo