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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
December 9, 2013
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 correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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