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The temporary change in wicketkeeping duties, even for a Test, could indicate how South Africa's new-look batting will present itself, with at least three young players waiting to be tested
Firdose Moonda in Galle
July 15, 2014
Amla on the impact of the ODI series win
First there was the change of captain which automatically brought about a change in the opening batsman but now South Africa are faced with a third major difference to the team of old as their new Test era begins. AB de Villiers is unlikely to keep wicket in Galle after hurting his hamstring while batting on Saturday. Quinton de Kock will take his place behind the stumps and although the move may only be temporary, it is a sign of where the team's future is headed.
Although de Villiers was a prominent figure in South Africa's pre-practice football game, Hashim Amla said he is "unlikely," to appear behind the stumps in the first Test because his right hamstring has not fully recovered from the strain it suffered in the ODIs. The niggle will not rule de Villiers out of participating completely and he should still be able to bat in his regular position.
As a result, South Africa seem to be planning their XI around the possibility of de Villiers batting only and de Kock keeping. "With Quinny playing, it changes the dynamic of the team," Amla said. "We will probably have one spinner and then JP - luckily he played a pretty significant part in the one-day series as well. If need be, we will use Dean Elgar (to bowl) as well. He's had a bit of a golden arm. But it would be great if we don't need him."
South Africa were unlikely to go into the match with two specialist spinners in Imran Tahir and Dane Piedt so their bowling plan is as expected but the inclusion of de Kock impacts on their batting strategy. For now, it will likely keep last season's first-class competition's top run-scorer Stiaan van Zyl on the sidelines but in the long-term it could affect the top three.
De Kock is an opening batsman by trade and has excelled in that role for the Lions. His first-class average sits at 47.15 and includes four centuries. He has not always kept wicket for the franchise and was not among the top run-scorers last season when international duty interrupted his domestic availability, which will probably keep him confined to the lower middle-order at the moment, but that could easily change.
Effectively, de Kock's inclusion has put both Alviro Petersen and Elgar on notice. Petersen has not scored a century since January 2013 - 18 months and 17 innings ago. That probably means the pressure is higher on him than Elgar who, if he opens, will only be doing it for the second time despite it being his regular position. A lean run for either of them could see de Kock move up and van Zyl slotted in lower down.
It has also opened the door for de Villiers to move up the order if needed. To properly explain this, the de Villiers debate needs to be dusted off. One of the chief reasons de Villiers was not slotted into Jacques Kallis' place higher-up was because it was considered a strain on him given that much was already expected of him at No.5 and he was keeping wicket.
If the gloves are taken away and with de Villiers also not weighed down by the responsibility of leadership - he was one of the frontrunners for the captaincy as well - there would seem little reason not to make best use of him higher in the order. At the moment, Faf du Plessis is in the position and has done fairly well with two half-centuries against Australia so it would take a lean run or a rethink of tactics to displace him but neither are impossibilities.
To put the wide-angled lens on it, de Kock's probable presence in Wednesday's XI, albeit forced, shows that South Africa are thinking of how their new-look team will present itself. They have a variety of combinations to consider and an impressive calibre of players to choose from. The trio of de Kock, Elgar and van Zyl have all proved their capabilities in the first-class set-up and all three of them could soon be playing alongside each other in the Test team.
But in the immediate term, it means South Africa also have the excitement and the anxiety that comes with uncertainty. They are conducting experiments at the moment not operating as the well-oiled machine that rose to No.1 in August 2012 and stayed there for 20 months. At the same time, they are trying to regain that position and the only way they can do that over the next few months is by beating Sri Lanka in this series.
Ordinarily, a task that tough would have weighed South Africa down but they appear genuinely buoyed by what is being asked of them. The infusion of youth, not just in age terms because both Elgar and van Zyl are 26 and not all that young anyway, but in terms of fresh mindset it is obvious in the current set-up. There are new ideas and the unburdening of de Villiers is only one of them that may be applied in the near future. Who knows what the others may be?
Things stayed the same for so long in South African cricket that perhaps this time change is being embraced so tightly, South Africa don't mind it coming in threes.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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