van Wyk eyes slot in South Africa top order
Morne van Wyk wants to challenge for a position in South Africa's top three in limited-overs formats of the game. The 32-year old believes that he "still has a lot of cricket" left in him and could fill the much debated wicketkeeper position.
van Wyk, who has been playing first-class cricket for 14 years, was a member of the 2011 South African World Cup squad that crashed out in the quarter-finals to New Zealand. He was selected as a back-up wicketkeeper and played in five of the team's seven matches, although he batted in the lower middle-order on all but one occasion. He opens the batting at franchise level and he has a List A average of over 40.
"I'm a top-order batsman and that's where the team gets the best out of me," van Wyk told ESPNcricinfo. "If I bat higher up for the national team will also open up a spot for an extra allrounder, like Faf du Plessis, or a bowler lower down the order."
The brittleness of South Africa's middle order was exposed during the World Cup and there was criticism over the lack of a traditional big-hitting allrounder at No.7. The balance of the team was further complicated by the fitness of AB de Villiers, which determined how many matches he could 'keep in. With the additional burden of captaincy and repeated back problems, it's unclear whether de Villiers will be up to the trio of tasks.
Since no long-term replacement for Mark Boucher has been found, van Wyk believes the time is right for him to step in. "I understand that I am definitely behind AB and I am happy to be his back-up," he said. "It will come down to whether he wants to keep or spread the workload." If it is the latter, van Wyk thinks his skills as a top-order batsman will put him a step above other glovemen in the country. "I think I am in a different boat to guys like Heino Kuhn and Thami Tsolekile."
Both Kuhn and Tsolekile have been identified as potential keepers for the national team but bat in the middle order, where the likes of du Plessis, Robin Peterson and Albie Morkel will probably play. The addition of an allrounder will assist in balancing the team and van Wyk thinks he can slot it higher up, where his record is better. van Wyk has batted at No. 3 in nine of the 13 ODIs he has played in. He has scored all three of his ODI half-centuries in that position and averages 34.22 in that position compared to 27.58 lower down the order.
South Africa's current top three of Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis, has only one certainty - Amla. Smith has been in miserable form for the past season and, after stepping down from the limited-overs captaincy, is no longer assured of his berth. If Kallis were to discover the elixir of life, he would be the first name on the South Africa team sheet forever, but the realities are starker.
The term being used to discuss how Kallis will continuing to participate in cricket at the highest-level is "manage." It means the allrounder will be phased out gently in order to his prolong his career. While the specifics have not been talked about, it's likely that Kallis will miss out on smaller series and possibly start playing fewer ODIs.
Although it will be impossible to replace the experience of Kallis, someone like van Wyk, who has been around the circuit for almost as long, could ease the transition. van Wyk is a senior player at the Knights franchise, where he "feels part of the machinery." He has played there for the duration of his career and has "been a part of the growth of some of the younger guys, which has been nice."
Despite his age, van Wyk does not see himself as being in the twilight years of his career. "We have this epidemic in South Africa, where once you reach 30, people think you should be shipped out." He compared it with Australia, where cricketers have longer careers and said the same should be applied in South Africa, particularly if a player is still fit and hungry like he is. "I am more keen to play international cricket now than I have ever been because I've had a taste of it."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent