Aiden Markram will have the opportunity to push for a place in the South African Test squad for the upcoming home season when he captains the A side in two four-day matches against India A. Markram is currently with the senior team in England, and will remain in Manchester and not return home with Vernon Philander and Andile Phehlukwayo this weekend, but then has a three-day turnaround before the first match starts on August 12.
Phehlukwayo and Duanne Olivier, who is playing at Old Trafford, are also part of the A squad, which includes discarded opener Stephen Cook. However, the news does not look promising for Dale Steyn whose comeback from the broken shoulder he suffered in Australia last year continues to be pushed back.
After being dropped for the England series, Cook, who is 34, may have thought his international career over but has been given a lifeline and could feature in the home summer, which is scheduled to include 10 Tests.
South Africa host Bangladesh in September-October before taking on India, in a series that is set for four Tests starting in early 2018 and Australia for four Tests in a season that is sure to ask questions of their depth. Already, the ongoing series in England has exposed weaknesses in South Africa's batting which the A team will hope to address.
Markram and Cook could both make cases to partner Dean Elgar, especially since Heino Kuhn had a tough first three Tests. He averaged 13 from his first six international innings with a top-score of 34. Lower down the line-up South Africa are also struggling for runs and the inclusion of David Miller, who was withdrawn from the CPL to play for the A side, could offer a solution. Other names to watch are Omphile Ramela and Jason Smith, both from Cobras, Khaya Zondo of the Dolphins' franchise and the two wicketkeeper batsmen Heinrich Klaasen and Rudi Second from Titans and Knights respectively.
The lengthy home season will also require pace-bowling reserves and so the absence of Dale Steyn is notable. Steyn is still recovering from the broken shoulder he suffered in Australia last November and his comeback has been delayed several times. Most recently, he hoped for a county stint, which did not materialise, and then to play the A side in a bid to make a return for the Bangladesh series but now that appears off the table as well. The earliest opportunity Steyn will have to play long-form cricket will be in the domestic four-day competition, ahead of the India Tests. Olivier, Phehlukwayo, Dane Paterson, Beuran Hendricks and Junior Dala will feature for the A side against India A.
South Africa have included two spinners in Dane Piedt, the offspinner, and legspinner Shaun von Berg but with Keshav Maharaj settled into his role and conditions expected to favour pace bowling, especially against the subcontinent teams, the best they can probably hope for is to serve as cover.
The two four-day matches will be played in Benoni and Potchefstroom, which is also the host of the first Test against Bangladesh.