South Africa in Sri Lanka 2014 May 29, 2014

Two uncapped SA spinners in race for Sri Lanka

Dane Piedt and Simon Harmer have been the leading first-class wicket-takers this season and one of them could partner Imran Tahir
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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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • mahjut on June 3, 2014, 11:52 GMT

    @Tommytucker's selection. I would question Elgar over Alviro (but I'm fine with your logic) but Morkel has been much more effective than you say - he may not be taking wickets but if you were in the opposition you would definitely be happier seeing Abbott running in to bowl at you than Morne. Not the time to drop Morne imo (despite everything, Vern is the one really under pressure as he has not completely come to the party on unassisting wickets)

    I like what I'm hearing about this young spinner Dane (who I have seen - on another article - has been selected into the squad)

  • TommytuckerSaffa on June 1, 2014, 11:56 GMT

    My SA Team for Sri Lanka 1. Stiaan Van Zyl 2. Elgar 3. Amla 4. AB (c) 5.Faff 6.JP 7. De Kock 8.Vern 9.Steyn 10.Abbott 11. Dane Piedt

    So why have I made these selections? Stiaan van Zyl is SA leading FC run scorer for the last few seasons and deserves a call up. Alviro is nearing the end of his career and is far too inconsistent. AB is SA's best Batsmen, therefore he needs to come in higher and relinquish the gloves, plus he is captain. M.Morkel has been a failure in SA cricket for the last 2 years with a sub par average of 32. Replace him with Abbott. Dane Piedt is SAs most successful spinner in domestic cricket. A fine prospect for the future. Imrain is not suited for 5 day game as we have seen on many occasions.

  • SA29fan on May 30, 2014, 19:27 GMT

    Its imperative the SA squad look back on their last tour in Sri Lanka. Horses for courses, Ive not included JP Duminy into the team as he is not a specialist spinner,,,,,Hitting the road running is important and we should not play catch up cricket, My team for the first would be , Dean Elgar, Pieterson, Faf du Plessis, Amla,(Captain),de villers, de Kock, Veron Philander,Piedt,Steyn,Morkel, Tahir..............

  • Greatest_Game on May 30, 2014, 15:57 GMT

    SA's last toured SL without Smith, Kallis, & spin bowling. 1st Test, SA opened & were bundled out for 169. Steyn (7th test/1st tour) struck back, dismissing Jayasuriya with his 3rd ball, Tharanga with his 10th, & had SL at 2/14. Then the carnage began, & Jayawardene & Sangakkara built the HIGHEST PARTNERSHIP IN TEST CRICKET - 624 runs. Kumar made 287 & Mahela a giant 374 before SL declared at 5/756. Steyn took 3, Nel & Hall 1 each, Ntini 0, & SA's 'spinner,' Nicky Boje, conceded 221 for no wicket.

    SA replied with 434, but lost by an inngs & 153 as Murali took 6 in 64 overs. Boje had taken 0 in 65! Murali's match figs: 10 for 172 @ econ 2.09.

    SA recovered in the 2nd test, & Boje improved with match figs of 5/182 ... but Murali's were 12/225!

    SA's competed in 3 of 4 inngs, but lost the series 2-0. In the 2nd Test SA were ahead after the 1st, but without incisive spin could not close out SL's 2nd inngs, & lost by just ONE wicket. Lesson learned: SA need 2 real spinners, AND Duminy!

  • BellCurve on May 30, 2014, 12:03 GMT

    @ Gareth_Bain - Obus Pienaar is currently playing for Dosti in the Dutch club competition (along with David Wiese and Colin Ackerman). So far, Pienaar has scored 61 runs in 4 innings at an average of 15.25, and has taken 1 wicket at an average of 55.00. He has fallen so far that he isn't even cutting it on the Dutch club scene! BTW, both Wiese and Ackerman are going great guns - Dosti is top of the league tables.

  • dummy4fb on May 30, 2014, 11:51 GMT

    One spinner plus Duminy gives us balance and a longer batting line as well as place for a specialist keeper. Piedt to go on tour as back up. Elgar Peterson, Amla, deVilliers, Du plessis, Duminy, De Kock, Morkel, Steyn,Philander, Tahir. Peterson needs to score some runs, and van Zyl needs to go on tour as back-up and experience, along with Hendriks, Abbott or Parnell.

  • Gareth_Bain on May 30, 2014, 10:31 GMT

    The guy who said Obus Pienaar is really out of the loop. He hasn't been able to buy a run for the Knights for 3 years! He was dropped from their team this season. Something happened to his bowling after his first couple of seasons, he's not even an all-rounder anymore: he bowls at 120kph now. I wish I knew what happened, because he was really promising at one point.

  • Gareth_Bain on May 30, 2014, 10:29 GMT

    Those innings pushed Miller's career franchise (NOT FC, which includes 2nd team) average into the early 30's for the first time. The others: Bavuma, Ontong, Rossouw, van Zyl are all in the mid-40's (van Zyl touching 50). Average doesn't tell you everything, but Miller's inconsistent 50 over performances are the most revealing. I'm amazed they haven't replaced him with Rilee there ages ago...

  • Protears on May 30, 2014, 10:01 GMT

    If anyone has gotten to see Dane Piedt play its a no brainer and in SL you have to play two spinners. Dane Piedt is probably the best spinner we have produced in a long time.

    as for batsmen, Elgar should be given a run this year and Stiaan van Zyl has to be included no matter what.

  • BellCurve on May 30, 2014, 9:48 GMT

    Petersen is 33 years old. In his last 10 Tests he averages 24.81, which is by far the worse of his peer group in the SA team. Is it not time for him to go? Therefore, revised team: 1 Elgar 2 De Kock 3 Amla 4 AB 5 Faf 6 Duminy 7 Van Zyl 8 Philander 9 Steyn 10 Morkel 11 Tahir/Piedt. Also like the idea of Miller playing. Any which way you look at it, Alviro should go.

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