South Africa v West Indies, 3rd Test, Cape Town January 1, 2015

South Africa's quest for a spin solution

South Africa have moved on from major retirements with remarkable ease in the batting department, but finding a long-term solution to the spin position continues to prove much harder

Once again, after just one Test back in the team, question marks surround Imran Tahir's Test future © AFP

Whether or not Imran Tahir plays at Newlands, he will have major questions at the back of his mind.

If he is included in the starting XI, he will know it could be his last chance to stake a claim for a Test future after his inability to contain was exposed at St George's Park. If he is not, his Test career is likely over. And then there is another problem looming. He is facing a possible ban following an outburst in a domestic game which could affect his participation in the limited-overs matches later this month.

The date for Tahir's hearing will be set on January 2, after it was delayed because the judicial officer was out of the country. Tahir was charged with a Level Two offense after a incident in the four-day fixture between the Dolphins and Warriors late last year. Tahir was allegedly upset after being removed from the attack for running on the pitch and confronted the umpires.

Two days after the first-class match ended, Tahir was called up as a replacement for Robin Peterson, who injured his finger in training, with Dane Piedt, the offspinner viewed as another long-term option, just beginning his comeback from injury. South Africa's team manager Mohammed Moosajee confirmed Tahir remains available for selection for the third Test, even though the date for his hearing will be known on the first day.

That means if offspinner Simon Harmer is picked in Tahir's place it will be a performance-related selection. It would also ensure South Africa's transitory phase is given another significant marker it what has been notable period of change.

The last Newlands Test shook up South Africa's set-up. Graeme Smith joined Jacques Kallis in retirement to end an era. Smith's ten-year tenure had made him Test cricket's longest-serving captain and South Africa, but with longevity came with it the issue of succession in a number of roles. The new skipper had to be searched for, along with a new opening batsman and a new No.3 and those were only changes that had to be made.

In the months that followed South Africa also found themselves turning to a different spinner, blooding new middle-order batsmen - mainly because of an injury - and new bowlers, with a view to filling the reserve seamer role. In all of that, they managed not to lose any of the five matches they played.

Under Hashim Amla, South Africa won the series in Sri Lanka, beat Zimbabwe then recently took the lead against West Indies with a series victory for the taking at Newlands.

For Vernon Philander, who debuted under Smith four years ago, it is a sign of how well the team as a whole has responded to change. "Graeme had been a big part of the side for a long period of time but the games moves on, Hashim has settled in very well. We want to move forward," Philander said.

And now the final step in that process may be taken. Spin has never been seen as a significant part of a South African attack with the role of the slower bowler often limited to containing. Paul Adams was one exception, Tahir the other. Although both operated alongside potent pace packs, Adams had the advantage of a couple of early tours to the subcontinent where his role was more important whereas Tahir has not had that chance.

Adams' first away tour, which he embarked on after appearing in just two Tests, was to India. He was South Africa's most successful bowler on the trip. Tahir had to wait 12 Tests and almost two years before playing in spinner-friendly conditions in the UAE. By then, he had already been dropped once and recalled. He claimed his first Test five-for in Dubai but could not sustain that on similarly helpful surfaces in Sri Lanka and was dropped again.

After teams worked Adams out he become too expensive a novelty to keep around. Tahir has become the same. A combination of bad luck and a burning desire to make an impression - as his irrepressible need for variation and exuberant celebrations indicate - could see his international promise go unfulfilled. In making that decision it would be another new face in a team building a new era, and which has embraced changed with remarkable ease, but the spin position is one that seems likely to vex South Africa for some time to come.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent