South Africa may resist the temptation to play an all-pace attack on what is certain to be a spicy Wanderers surface in the third Test against Sri Lanka, which starts from Thursday. Substantial rain in the lead-up to the match resulted in the pitch being prepared under a tent during the weekend, but with skies set to clear a little over the next two days, South Africa will weigh up their options carefully as they go in search of a whitewash.
"We need to wait until the last minute," Charl Langeveldt, South Africa's bowling coach said. "The groundsman says there is a lot of grass on the wicket but the weather could change and at the last minute he could take the grass off. But we're not scared of going in with a spinner."
Both Test captain Faf du Plessis and coach Russell Domingo have long been in favour of including a spinner in the team, especially if that spinner can hold one end for long periods of time to allow the quicks to rotate from the other. In Dane Piedt, South Africa were not quite sure they had that - and they have since sent him back to the franchise system to tighten up - but in Keshav Maharaj, they are more convinced they do. "Keshav is economical, he does hold up an end," Langeveldt said. "When we were playing well in Australia, we were holding up both ends and it gave KG (Kagiso Rabada) the freedom to attack the stumps more."
On Rabada's home ground, he is likely to be given even more of a license to attack, especially now that he has found the rhythm that was lacking in the first Test, which makes Maharaj's chance of playing higher. "This wicket actually suits KG a bit more with the extra bounce. He loves bowling in Johannesburg - in a first-class game he got 13 wickets here," Langeveldt remembered.
That does not necessarily mean Rabada will take the new ball. Langeveldt indicated he is more in favour of Wayne Parnell opening the bowling with Vernon Philander, as he has done for his franchise, Cape Cobras. "I would tend to go with the left-armer. He brings something different, gets a bit of shape back into the right-hander and does swing the ball up front," Langeveldt sad.
Langeveldt's comments also suggest rookie inclusion Duanne Olivier will have to wait for his first cap because Parnell, who was in the squad for the first two Tests but did not play, could get the nod ahead of him in a three-pronged pace pack.
Since last playing a Test almost three years ago in March 2014, Parnell has worked specifically on consistency, both in game time and bowling terms. Before that, Parnell played sporadically on the domestic circuit because he was often a non-playing member of the South African touring party and he had a reputation for being wayward with the ball. After two solid seasons in the franchise system, in which Parnell has also made changes to his action, Langeveldt is excited to see what he can do. "It's going to be a challenge to see what Wayne has to offer. Can we get him to be more consistent in his lengths? Test cricket is all about getting the ball in the right area," Langeveldt said.
Even if Parnell slots straight in and Olivier returns to the Knights with only a training session or two to show for his maiden call-up, Langeveldt has provided an assurance that Olivier will come up for consideration again soon, especially as South Africa rebuild from Kyle Abbott's Kolpak-induced exit. "It's an exciting time. We've had it in previous years where guys have left to play Kolpak cricket and it's going to be a challenge. But we have to look at what our next line of players is. There are a few young and upcoming bowlers in the A side, but international cricket is a big step for them. We have to invest in them in the next couple of months."
The leap a player has to make from the first-class set-up to the international stage is considerable and that may be why South Africa want Olivier around the camp for a little longer before they unleash him. "There's a huge difference. We saw that when Dale and Vernon were injured and we played against England. We saw the shortcomings and saw the difference in length," Langeveldt said, referring to last summer when South Africa tried everyone from Chris Morris to Hardus Viljoen, without success, to fill in for their spearheads. "In first-class cricket if you bowl full and straight and fast you will get wickets. Once a guy gets to the international [level], it's a whole new ball game."
Du Plessis has also spoken of the importance of experience in a Test attack. That brings into question how desperate South Africa are to have Morne Morkel back. Morkel is still nursing a back injury sustained at the CPL. "Morne Morkel is always going to be in the pecking order. He's probably next in line when he's not injured. He brings a whole different dimension to our attack when he's around," Langeveldt said.
Morkel trained with the squad at Newlands last week and will play a List A match for provincial side Northerns on January 22 to determine his availability for the third T20 against Sri Lanka and the ODIs that follow. Should Morkel be declared fully fit, Langeveldt believes he is "probably going to be in our one-day set-up", and will likely also come into consideration for the Tests against New Zealand and England later this year.