Shamsi, Maharaj in South Africa squad for Australia Tests
Two uncapped spinners will form part of South Africa's attack on their three Test tour to Australia in November. Chinaman bowler Tabraiz Shamsi, who has enjoyed early success in ODIs, and left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj have been included in the 16-man squad. They come in at the expense of offspinner Dane Piedt, who had played both home Tests against New Zealand and three of the four Tests against England last summer, and seemed to be establishing himself as first choice.
The pace pack has fewer surprises with Morne Morkel returning, subject to coming through a first-class match starting on Tuesday. Morkel sat out the New Zealand Tests and Australia ODIs with a back problem and has since made a come back in club cricket. He forms part of a five-man seam attack with Kyle Abbott, Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander.
Faf du Plessis will captain in place of the injured AB de Villiers while in-form Rilee Rossouw - who is yet to win a Test cap - has been added as batting cover in place of Stiaan van Zyl. Dane Vilas will travel as the reserve gloveman. Dean Elgar, who sustained an ankle injury ahead of the second Test against New Zealand, has been in action for the Titans and will take his place at the top of the order. With allrounders Chris Morris and Wayne Parnell nursing knee and rib injuries respectively, South Africa are without an allrounder apart from JP Duminy, who has been earmarked to play a role with the ball as well.
"Basically, we are following a horses for courses policy as we feel that spinners who turn the ball away from the right-hander are going to be particularly useful in Australian conditions and against the Test batsmen we are likely to face," Linda Zondi, South Africa's convener of selectors, said. "I am excited about the cover we have in this area with a wrist spinner and a left-arm orthodox spinner, with JP Duminy able to offer the right-arm variety as well."
Still, the inclusion of two rookie spinners is a bold move from South Africa, and seems to come as a consequence of Piedt's wickets costing too much. He was South Africa's third-highest wicket-taker in the England series, with 10 scalps at 45.50, and he was South Africa A's joint-highest wicket-taker in their two unofficial Tests against Australia A but his six wickets came at an average of 43.66. Piedt had a good first-class run last summer, finishing third on the overall wicket-takers' list, behind Shamsi and in front of Maharaj.
Shamsi was joint-second with 41 wickets at 16.07 while Maharaj was joint-fifth, with 36 wickets at 32.00. While Shamsi has not played a first-class match since April, and his time with the South African ODI squad means he will not feature for the Titans before the Australia tour, Maharaj has started this season with great success. He took a career-best 13 for 157 to bowl the Dolphins to victory over the Warriors in the opening round of the first-class competition.
Half of South Africa's Test squad will not have had long-format game time ahead of the tour as they finish the ODI series but Cook, Elgar, Temba Bavuma, Vernon Philander, Vilas, Dean Elgar, Morkel and Maharaj will all have at least one domestic match under their belts before the squad travels. Cook and Bavuma scored an unbeaten 97 and 76 respectively for the Lions in their win over the Cobras. Vilas and Philander played in the same match, without much success. Elgar scored 33 and 1 for the Titans against the Knights and Morkel will play for the Titans in their fixture this week.
South Africa will also have two warm-up matches in Australia - one ahead of the series and another between the second and third Tests. The final fixture is a day-night match at the Adelaide Oval, in which de Villiers is holding out faint hope of being able to participate in.