Parnell, McLaren likely for Australia Tests
Ryan McLaren and Wayne Parnell are likely to be included in South Africa's Test squad for the upcoming series against Australia. While both should feature in the group, which will be without Jacques Kallis for the first time in 18 years, only one of the two all-rounders is expected to make the final XI.
Although neither McLaren nor Parnell bat in the top-order, whoever plays will slot into the lower middle-order and act as the fourth seamer in a line-up that will probably have to do away with the seven specialist batsmen strategy that has been in place for the last year-and-a-half. Instead, South Africa will position an allrounder at No.7, to ensure they have sufficient bowling options to accompany their three seamers and sole spinner.
Robin Peterson is the man in possession of the slow-bowling role and is likely to keep his spot for the Australia series. Imran Tahir, the other spinner in the mix, may not feature in the squad at all after being dropped for the Boxing Day Test against India. Tahir could be left to continue playing for his franchise, the Lions, in order to ensure he stays match ready.
Others who are likely to be considered but will probably also be left to continue playing in the first-class competition - which resumes the day after the Test series starts on February 12 - are top-order batsman Stiaan van Zyl, who tops the Sunfoil series run charts and left-arm seamer Beuran Hendricks, who has the most wickets in the tournament so far this season. Hendricks is only in his second season as a regular franchise player and has already caught the attention of higher-ups, which could be an indication South Africa are searching for a left-armer to complete their Test line-up.
That may give Parnell the edge over McLaren, despite him being less experienced. Although Parnell has played three Tests for South Africa, in 2010, compared to McLaren's one that same year, he is younger in years and seasons in the game. What Parnell offers is a little more pace, which may be the key ingredient in what is expected to be a battle of the bowlers against Australia.
The pair should have one last opportunity to tip the scales one way or the other in a yet-to-be-announced fixture between South Africa's Test side and an A team. The match is expected to take place between February 4 and 7 at the Wanderers and will replace the one-off Test CSA proposed to Zimbabwe.
With Zimbabwe's players still on strike following non-payment of salaries, Brendan Taylor's men could not make the trip south so CSA have had to come up with an alternative arrangement to give their players first-class cricket. Although the majority of the national squad have had game time courtesy of the domestic twenty-over competition, the key trio of Dale Steyn, AB de Villiers and Graeme Smith have not been in action as much as team management would have liked and this match should benefit them most.
Steyn was given extended rest and took no part in the competition at all while Smith was ruled out of the tournament after playing in just three games. Smith picked up an ankle injury. De Villiers is the biggest worry. He could not play for the Titans because he had hand surgery and is on the mend.
De Villiers is making steady progress but there is still some concern he may not be fully fit by the time the Australia series starts. If he is only able to bat, and not keep wicket, the reserve gloveman Thami Tsolekile will slot in at No.7, leaving no room for either Parnell or McLaren. Quinton de Kock, who plays for South Africa in limited-overs formats and has had an impressive start to his first-class career, will probably not be considered in the immediate term.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent