India in South Africa 2013-14 December 9, 2013

South Africa mull their best Test eleven

The South Africa thinktank is involved in a discussion around three areas of the team composition - the opening berth, a specialist wicketkeeper and what type of spinner to use

One of the secrets to South Africa's Test success - they have lost only one match since becoming the No.1 ranked side last August - is not such a secret at all. "Consistency in selection" as former coach Gary Kirsten dubbed it has seen them using largely the same group of players in the longest format and has led to a settled unit which will be redeployed for the two-Test series against India. 

Convener of selectors Andrew Hudson said while the XI will only be decided on match morning, as is always the case, he feels there is "unlikely to be any changes", which means South Africa will probably stick to their seven batsmen, four bowler strategy. But that does not mean there is no room for debate. A source confirmed the panel, along with other decision makers such as coach Russell Domingo and captain Graeme Smith, are involved in discussion around three areas of the team composition. 

The focus is spread between the opening berth, the question over a specialist wicketkeeper and what type of spinner to use.  

At the top of the order, Alviro Petersen's place is in question. Graeme Smith's partner has not gone past 30 in his last nine Test innings. A possible replacement for him is in the current squad. 

Dean Elgar, who has batted at No. 6 and 7 for South Africa and once at No. 3, when he replaced an unavailable Hashim Amla, is an opener by trade and is yet to play in his preferred spot at this level. Elgar has already enjoyed a good start to the current season, with a century for the Knights in the opening round of the first-class competition and his coach Sarel Cilliers believes he is "absolutely ready" to open the batting for South Africa. 

What may work against Elgar is that South Africa may not be in favour of a pairing with two left-handed batsmen, which would also make current Sunfoil series leader Stiaan van Zyl only an outside candidate, and Petersen may hold on to the spot with the knowledge someone like Stephen Cook is chasing him. Cook has scored two hundreds in two consecutive matches in the first-class competition, has led the run charts in the past and is knocking on the door once again. 

Another player, and one who has received the popular vote, who could be looked at in that position is Quinton de Kock. The 20-year-old has enjoyed a rich streak of form in one-day cricket, with three centuries, two against India in this month, but was overlooked for the longest format despite public pressure to pick him.

"The question is where would we play him?" Hudson asked. "At the moment, he is doing really well in the shorter format but we want him to go and score big hundreds for the Lions before considering him for Tests." 

De Kock has an impressive first-class record, albeit based on only 18 matches. He averages 55.70 and already has four centuries to his name but Hudson is hopeful he will add to that this summer. Developing his keeping, which has already shown significant signs of improvement, is the other area the selectors would like to de Kock to work on before picking him in the Test team. 

What de Kock has showed them in the shorter format is that freeing AB de Villiers from the gloves does wonders for his game. De Villiers has batted with more freedom in ODIs and made his presence felt on the field and they may look to unburden him in a similar way in Tests. 

For that, South Africa will need to play reserve wicketkeeper Thami Tsolekile. ESPNcricinfo understands this is a sticking point with the current selection panel and has divided them. One half of it calling for Tsolekile to replace Faf du Plessis - who has not managed a half-century in seven innings in Tests - while the other wants the status quo.

Either way, du Plessis is the other player under pressure to perform, as he was in the 50-over game. He was dropped from South Africa's squad to play ODIs against both Pakistan and India but remains the T20 captain. 

The final area of scrutiny is which spinner South Africa will choose, having retained both Imran Tahir and Robin Peterson in the squad. Tahir has overtaken Peterson in the pecking order, since he replaced him for the second Test against Pakistan in the UAE. Tahir claimed a five-for against his former countrymen and has since been South Africa's first-choice spinner in all three formats with Peterson left out of recent T20 and ODI squads. 

Hudson explained Peterson's career is far from over and he could still earn a place in the XI, depending on the strategy South Africa opt for. "We definitely aren't looking past Peterson," Hudson said. "If you look at the last two years, it's really been a ding-dong battle between them. If we go for an attacking spinner, Imran is our guy and [if] we need a more defensive spinner, then we will go with Robbie." 

Tahir was less successful against Pakistan in South Africa than he was in the UAE, and has not played either of the ODIs against India. With pitches likely to be prepared with the seamers in mind, he may find conditions keeping him out of the XI, particularly for the first match at the Wanderers, and Peterson could have an opportunity to work his way back in.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • des on December 11, 2013, 17:48 GMT

    @mahjut: My previous response wasn't posted so I'll just post a few facts:

    -De Kock was dropped after the SL series, not sure if you watch all our games. In the Pakistan ODI series, even with Amla out Ingram and Smith opened. De Kock came back in the 3rd ODI when Smith was injured and averaged 60 over the ODI series.

    -De Kock has more runs after 16 ODI innings than any player in SA history. Is this an 'occasional glimpse' of what he should be doing?

    -He is a 20 yr old keeper who opens the batting, can clear the boundaries and make centuries. And FC average of 55. May not excite you but does excite most of us South Africans that I speak to. To me he is the most exciting talent since AB and Amla.

    -I judge him on these facts and his record, but I did first get excited when watching him bat for the Lions and make a sublime century. Not sure what you have against him or why you don't want a talented young player to make it, I remember you arguing against his selection from the start

  • des on December 11, 2013, 16:45 GMT

    @mahjut : I was not defending anyone, I was querying your statement that De Kock showed 'occasional' glimpses of justifying his selection.

    Perhaps you haven't been following all SA's games. De Kock was dropped from the team after struggling opening in Sri Lanka. Even though Amla was away the ODI series in the UAE started with Ingram and Smith opening. De Kock only came back in the 3rd game after Smith went home. He hit a century in the UAE and averaged over 60 in ODIs.

    After 16 ODI innings he has more runs than any SA player in history. Is this an 'occasional' glimpse of justifying his selection? I confess I have been excited about De Kock's talent ever since watching him hit a century for the Lions. A 20 yr old keeper who can open the batting, clear the boundary, make centuries - these don't come along very often.

    But I remember debating with you when he was first selected and you were very disparaging, so I can only assume you have some reason to look beyond his talent and runs.

  • mahjut on December 11, 2013, 14:31 GMT

    @SurlyCynic ... your defence of StaalBurgher is no less confusing for me than my de Kock comments are for you I fear.

    de Kock had a great debut season and was, VERY young, given an international debut - that there is investment (you can see it as insignificant if you like). He looked mostly at sea (and appeared to confirm the rise was too rapid when thrust into the IPL). He had to be better managed and they did that by giving him some breathing space but he was not dropped in SL - in fact he was drafted in for the last three games (Have I missed a series between SL and PK?) in which he never ignited ... unless I did miss a series that did not deter them selecting him for the ODIs against PK - in which he hit ONE half century in, what did you say, 6 games? in fact by that point, after 16 innings he had hit only one half century (112) - which was a glimpse of what he might eventually do ... he then hit 47 showing another glimpse. I am ambivalent emotionally - I judge his record ...

  • Gordon on December 11, 2013, 11:55 GMT

    I think since they keep on persisting with Thami Tsolekile on getting in the Test squads back to back now for a long time not playing, I think he needs to play. It is no good if you keep on selecting a fellow just for the reason of having him there is he is never going to have a go. I think his time has passed however I will say he has played pretty well recently so it is good they are trying to reward him but at age 33 he is getting on and probably will only play for another few years or more. I think everyone needs to see Thami Tsolekile in action so then we can say "The selectors were right" when he does well or we can all say to the selectors if it doesn't go well "what were you thinking?" I was at the Adelaide Oval Test when Australia played South Africa and my dad was there with me and I back then wanted Thami Tsolekile to play because I felt he would help AB and because they kept on selecting him but refused to play him.

  • Faan on December 11, 2013, 9:31 GMT

    Interesting points made @Unomaas. I do think however that a home series against these sort of bowlers would have been a good chance to get De Kock going. He is clearly the future, whereas Thami is a capable back up at best. Also think that Faf deserves another chance, before we revert to Elgar.

  • Andre on December 11, 2013, 5:47 GMT

    Thami's batting is not up to test standard. Quinton's average is almost double Thami's and those who say an average of 55 is unrealistic because it's early in his career, did you ever see this man bat? The next IPL they will be fighting over him and I can say the same for English county sides.

  • Dummy4 on December 10, 2013, 22:07 GMT

    I think DeKock deserve his place in Test cricket after good performance in ODIs. Having average of 55 in FC is great and up to merit to enter test cricket. I don't know what Gary is looking for and why to give too many chances to Peterson.

    If you don't try new players then you will never get players like Phelender at all.

  • Blaen on December 10, 2013, 18:32 GMT


    Bouchers inclusion in the team was a toss up between Nic Pothas and himself. Since our readmission to international cricket, we had always chosen a Wicket Keeper based on glove work rather than batsmanship (old school thinking but remember this was before the advent of Gilchrist). It was adjudicated that Boucher was a better gloveman (which he proved over a very long career). Boucher's batting technique was not the major deciding factor hence your logic and thinking with regard to Bouchers inclusion is erroneous. If you ask anyone whose who in SA cricket, everyone will agree that QdK's glovework leaves alot to be desired. Keep in mind that Thami is a better rated gloveman that QdK.

  • Dummy4 on December 10, 2013, 16:38 GMT

    I'm having a hard time with the idea that even *some* of the selectors are still considering using Thami in the Test side. His time - if he did have one - has come and gone.

    What more does de Kock have to do to get in the side?

  • Sharad on December 10, 2013, 16:23 GMT

    India is not No1. odi side for sure. Its just the odi rankings. They have played most of the Odis in home and against Zimbabwe and Sri lanka who are modern weak teams.

    India should be ranked no4 or no5 in odi because they are bunch of batsmen who cannot score 100s in overseas conditions. The ICC should correct their points and ranking system. Any asian team loosing overseas should get more penalty than any overseas team loosing in asia. If a team wins at home, they should earn some standard points and not huge rank. This applies to all asian teams like India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan who become heavy weights just by winning games on those flat, slow low tracks.

    I think Australia is no1 odi team and SA is no2 odi team. Aus is just not serious about odi. But they should become serious as they are in case of ashes. odi world cup 2015 and T20 world cup 2014 is not far.

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