Former SA selector says it's time to experiment
South Africa should use the upcoming three-Test series against Sri Lanka to deepen their pool of international players, according to the former national selector Hugh Page. Sri Lanka travel as the underdogs - not only do they have the historical disadvantage of never recording a Test win in South Africa, but their current form is dismal - they have not managed one Test victory this year. Page sees it as a chance to blood fringe players ahead of a year which includes tours to New Zealand, England and Australia.
"If you are going to give guys an opportunity, this is the series to do it," Page told ESPNcricinfo. "South Africa currently have a very healthy situation, the nursery is full. But, they don't want a situation where when some of the old guys go; you have five or six totally new players."
Page, who was part of Omar Henry's selection panel nearly ten years ago, identified two key areas for South Africa's selectors to zone in on: wicketkeeping and batting. The former is a particularly prickly issue, with no clear successor being earmarked in place of Mark Boucher, who had a poor series against Australia and is under pressure to produce with the bat. Page identified one candidate who could be tried.
"Mark Boucher probably does not have a long time left and I like the look of Dane Vilas," Page said. Vilas plays for the Cobras where he bats in the lower-middle order and boasts a first-class average of 46.62. He scored an authoritative, unbeaten 161 in a match against the Titans in this year's SuperSport Series.
According to Page, South Africa's top-six could also use a shake-up, which would involve moving Jacques Rudolph down the order. "I would recall Alviro Petersen. He should open the batting and Jacques Rudolph should come in the middle order," Page said.
Petersen was dropped in favour of Rudolph for the two-Test series against Australia. Rudolph topped the SuperSport Series rankings last season and has the same so far, this season. But, Rudolph had an unremarkable return to Test cricket, top-scoring with 30 in four innings. His opening stands with Graeme Smith never lasted more than 40. Petersen and Smith had nine opening stands of at least 50 in the nine Tests they played together. "Petersen and Smith also form that left-right combination which is quite a nice asset to have," Page said.
South Africa's attack is not a cause of concern for Page, although he would like to see an injection of youth with players such as Wayne Parnell and Marchant de Lange on the radar. de Lange has only played 14 first-class matches but made a big impression in last month's tour match against the Australians, where he took 5 for 56. Page suggested South Africa emulate their recent rivals when it comes to fast-tracking players. "Look at Australia, their two debutants [Nathan Lyon and Patrick Cummins] took five-wicket hauls in their first series. Same with Vernon Philander. We should do something similar with our youngsters."
Seamers are expected to play a major role in the series, with the hosts likely to prepare pitches that favour pace and bounce. Sri Lanka are depleted in the pace department due to injuries. Suranga Lakmal, Nuwan Kulasekara, Shaminda Eranga and Dhammika Prasad are all injured. "When we go there, they won't do us any favours, so we shouldn't do them any over here, especially when they are down," Page said.
While Page was in favour of experimentation in the Test squad, he warned that the ODI leg of the tour may prove trickier. "In the one-dayers, we will have to be wary of them, they are a very good side and we should be sensible in our selections there." South Africa lost their three-match ODI series against Australia 2-1 and, after crashing out of the World Cup in the quarter-final stage, still have a few unanswered questions about the make-up of their limited-overs squads.
The South African selectors have some time before they pick the ODI squad but are expected to announce the Test squad on Tuesday. Sri Lanka's tour will begin next Friday, with a three-day warm-up match against South African A in Benoni.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent