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Abbott's absence cannot undermine South Africa's surge

Wayne Parnell did a decent job in favourable conditions on his return to Test cricket Gallo Images

Kyle, who?

Harsh... Harsh, I know, but not exactly untrue.

South Africa's pace pack did not miss their Mr Dependable as they cleaned up at the Wanderers. Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada did as Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada do: teased outside the off stump and drew the drive; ramped up the pace and put it just short of a length. Between them they broke the back of the Sri Lankan challenge. They needed help, of course, but it almost didn't matter where that help came from. But only almost.

Almost, because South Africa will play on far less helpful surfaces than this Wanderers one, against far more challenging opponents; they will not have Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy snatching balls out of the sky in every match, they will not have the Bullring crowd, that bays for blood, behind them every time.

Almost because soon it is going to matter who the third seamer is, and what they do. Ideally, du Plessis wants that person to be someone who can learn quickly, keep it tight and complement Philander and Rabada while operating at a similarly high standard to them.

"KG and Vern are extreme world class bowlers. They are delivering every game and they're very, very consistent and relentless. Our third seamer must get to that level as soon as possible and hit areas consistency," he said.

"He must make sure he can bowl in the areas you want him to bowl at and, when there are times to keep the scoring rate at 2.6 or 2.7, he can do that. We need to get the third guy to come in and do exactly that because Test cricket is about landing the ball in the right area."

Easy, right? Wrong.

Neither Wayne Parnell nor Duanne Olivier did exactly that this time, but it wasn't the end of the world. They didn't need to this time, especially not in the second innings. By then, Sri Lanka's batsmen had confirmed that they were completely unable to deal with the bounce and movement so South Africa could zone in on attacking and in that department, the pair were fairly successful.

Parnell's left-arm angle and Olivier's mean bouncer were the main weapons on the day and they both offered what du Plessis called "nice pace". Parnell has dropped some, which was somewhat expected given his remodelled action which focuses on being more front-on and arriving at the crease with more stability.

He was in the mid-130s, sacrificing speed in a bid for swing, but disappointingly, he did not find much. Word was that he had rediscovered the ability to move the ball back into the right-hander but, aside from one decent delivery that did for a skittish Kusal Mendis, he struggled to bend it on a regular basis. It may have been nothing more than nerves than stopped him, but it is something he will need to find consistently if he is to present a speciality to the selectors.

Where Parnell was much improved was in his consistency. His groupings were on a good length, on or outside off, and he very rarely went wide or down the leg-side. When he did, he was punished which saw his second-innings economy-rate balloon and that will be something he needs to watch for.

Olivier's short ball, on a spicy surface, was the highlight of his debut. He fires it in with proper aggression and follows it up with a stare-down. He has the attitude of a man not to be messed with and that is a quality South Africa values in a quick.

Olivier was also adept at pitching it up and the talk is that he is effective with the old ball and on flat surfaces, a consequence of playing his domestic cricket in Bloemfontein. That's something the selectors will keep in mind when they have matches on more challenging surfaces.

In this match, Olivier showed potential and you can't ask for much more from a first-timer. If there were nerves, and there would have been, he hid them well. When he got it wrong, as he did when dropped Kusal Mendis off his own bowling to deny himself a maiden Test wicket, he did not allow it to get him down, and when he was hit, and he was, he came back well.

Given where Olivier is in the queue, it was important for him to have such an impressive debut. Much like what's-his-name Abbott, he may find himself left out in the next Test and a few after that.

Much depends on Morne Morkel, who was set to make a return from a back injury that has seen him benched since the CPL alongside AB de Villiers in a List A match for Northerns next Sunday, but has now suffered a recurrence of the symptoms that sidelined him. Morkel will need to be reassessed before there can be thoughts of a recall and it does not seem entirely convincing. Much more depends on whether the selectors feel Parnell has done more than Olivier.

But for South Africa, these are all good problems to have because they are awash with options. Marchant de Lange and Chris Morris have both been in good form in the first-class competition - Morris has only just returned from a knee niggle - and there are several young players coming through. Andile Phehlukwayo, Lungi Ngidi, Dwaine Pretorius and Dane Paterson are among them. Kyle who, indeed.