Two uncapped SA spinners in race for Sri Lanka
At least two new faces are expected to travel with South Africa's squad to Sri Lanka in July: a batsman for either a top or middle order role and a spinner. This time, contrary to popular perception, South Africa are spoilt for choice in the latter department and have the luxury of two stand-out contenders to choose from.
Dane Piedt and Simon Harmer were the top two wicket-takers in last season's first-class competition and the only bowlers to claim 40 or more scalps each. Piedt took 45 wickets at 19.93 for the Cobras while Harmer had 40 wickets at 35.72 for the Warriors. They are both offspinners who would offer something different to what the certainty in the squad, Imran Tahir does. They have both worked closely with South Africa's spin consultant Claude Henderson and are both hopeful of making the trip.
"It would be reward for a good season," Piedt told ESPNcricinfo. For Harmer, it would be reward for two good seasons. He was the leading wicket-taker in the 2011-12 summer as well when he took 44 wickets at 31.72. "I would hope I am being considered. I've performed well domestically and for South Africa A. I think I tick all the boxes," Harmer said.
To decide between them, the selectors will have to take into consideration what type of back-up spinner they want. In Piedt they will have a bowler who has a lot of weapons in his arsenal, in Harmer they will have someone who may seem as though he has fewer but has mastered the art of using them.
Piedt, 24, made his name last summer on variation. He brought out the doosra, the carrom ball, the top-spinner and the arm-ball and managed to juggle his use of all of them effectively. "That just worked for me and it has worked for me since I started playing," Piedt said. "To move away from that won't be part of my plan. With Cobras, I was given the responsibility of bowling teams out and that's how I did it. I really took to that." Among his performances was a hat-trick against the Dolphins.
Harmer relies on a more conventional approach, although it is not to be confused with a defensive one. He gets ample turn on the ball and uses that to get batsmen out. "I do have variations but I don't think it is necessary to use them all the time," he said. "And I offer something in all three spheres because I bat and field as well."
While Piedt is still working on becoming an all-round package - he has a batting average of 15.38 although he has four first-class fifties - Harmer has established himself as a reliable lower middle-order batsman. He has a first-class hundred and averages 29.39 and that is not the only thing that may give Harmer the edge.
The selectors have already earmarked him as a potential future player as recently as the last time South Africa's Test squad played. Together with left-arm pacer Beuran Hendricks, Harmer was a non-playing member of the squad for the first Test against Australia last March where he was able to train with the national squad and observe first-hand how they prepare.
"They were very welcoming and Beuran and I were part of everything. We played in a warm-up match and then we went into the training where I could see they were very focused and specific in their preparation," Harmer said. "Russell Domingo (the coach) makes sure they have everything available - whether guys want to face spin, fast bowling, short-pitched bowling, whatever. And their net sessions are a lot longer than what we had at franchise level. They are a full three hours," Harmer said.
Comparatively, Piedt has been part of a national academy tour in 2011 to Bangladesh and a spinners' camp in India in 2012, which Harmer was also on. Piedt used the Indian camp to pick the brain of former international Sunil Joshi. "I was like a sponge in India; I just wanted to absorb things from all the different guys."
What Piedt has that Harmer does not is a track record of team success. The Cobras won the first-class competition for the last two seasons which Piedt believes will open doors for their players. "If you don't win trophies, you probably won't get a look in," Piedt said. "At the Cobras, we just want to win trophies and we don't look at the next level.
"Guys like Robin Peterson always tell me not to compare myself to others and just to be relaxed and focused on my own game. So if I am given the opportunity to play for South Africa, I will take it with both hands. But just to be in the reckoning makes me really proud. And if I don't get picked, I will go back and work hard at the Cobras."
Also at the Cobras are the batsmen in the running to fill retired former captain Graeme Smith's opening berth. Dean Elgar, who has already played nine Tests for South Africa, is the frontrunner but left-hander Stiaan van Zyl may also find himself in contention as well, even if he bats lower down.
Van Zyl, 26, is a regular No.3 and topped the first-class competition's run-scoring charts in the past season. He scored 933 runs at an average of 58.31 and scored three hundreds and four fifties. Justin Ontong, 34, was only six runs behind van Zyl with an average of 71.30, three centuries and five fifties which presents another interesting debate for the selection panel: whether to opt for youth or experience.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent