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Vilas tackles uncertain future head on

Dane Vilas receives the domestic newcomer of the year award from Graeme Smith Getty Images

There are 8678 kilometres between Bangladesh and Benoni and for Dane Vilas, it may feel even longer. Little more than a month ago, Vilas made his Test debut for South Africa in Dhaka. This weekend, he will play as the only international in Western Province's Africa Cup T20 squad, after Wayne Parnell was forced to withdraw with a hamstring injury. And next month, Vilas does not know where he will be.

Either he will be back with the South African squad as they embark on their longest-ever tour of India, or he will still be with his domestic team, who may either be playing in the Africa Cup knockouts or preparing for the franchise season ahead. In between, there's not too much he can do to force his fate in either direction.

"I am not sure," Vilas told ESPNcricinfo when asked whether he knows what he needs to do to make sure he goes to India. "I am just going to plan and train as though I am going and then if happens, that's great. There's not a lot of cricket between now and then."

The only cricket in September is the Africa Cup, where Vilas and his rival, Quinton de Kock are both playing but their performances in the tournament will do little to sway selection. The Africa Cup is a semi-professional competition where Vilas and de Kock will be men among boys and not the right platform to decide whether either should earn the right to be a boy among the men of international cricket.

South Africa A's recently completed tour of India is a better measure for that purpose and those statistics suggest stiff competition between the two glovemen. De Kock found his form with three successive centuries but Vilas, who bats in the middle order, was also in good nick. He scored 50 in one of the List A matches and 75 in an unofficial Test. "We both did well on the tour so it's difficult to speculate," Vilas said.

The selectors may have to make a decision based more on nuances than numbers and if that is the case, Vilas may have the edge over de Kock for now. Vilas is eight years older than de Kock and knows the rigour of establishing himself in an unfamiliar team.

Five years ago, he left Johannesburg's Lions franchise to join Cape Town's Cobras. At the time, he was competing with Thami Tsolekile for a place in the Lions' team and the Cobras were swapping between keepers in different formats and wanted some consistency. Vilas still had to prove himself, to take the gloves off Ryan Canning and Andrew Puttick and become a regular in the starting XI, but it was a task he stuck to with tenacity.

"When I moved, I put more responsibility on myself to get into the team and to hold a regular place. It's more difficult when you are out of your comfort zone, away from your family and friends and I guess it was a bit of a fast-track to growing up," Vilas said.

Once he had done that, it seemed Vilas had hit a ceiling. "My career has fallen in the time between Mark Boucher at the national side, Thami Tsolekile with the A side and then Quinton with the national side," he said. "So you have to get a bit lucky and then if you get a chance, you've got to be able to take it."

When it became clear Tsolekile was no longer in contention for South Africa, because of the rise of de Kock, Vilas got a chance in the A side. His big break only came when AB de Villiers went on paternity leave, and then de Kock was dropped because of poor batting form. Vilas was the reserve gloveman in the Test squad that went to Bangladesh and was capped in Dhaka as a result.

Despite a forgettable debut, since play was only possible for one day of the match, Vilas treasures the memory. "It was amazing - to get the call-up to be part of the squad and then to make my debut; it was everything I had worked for," he said. "But it was also bittersweet because of the washout."

The rain robbed Vilas of the chance to show what he could do with the bat and only allowed for a brief glimpse of his skills behind the stumps, but he hopes it was enough to demonstrate his ability to adapt. "At least, I know what to expect from a conditions perspective - the ball stays lower and what I found different was that we were using the SG ball, which gets softer a lot quicker. You have to get used to the way it reacts off the pitch."

Vilas had time to get used to that in Bangladesh and on the A side's tour of India, and he believes he can do the job if picked for the senior tour there. He also believes he can come good for South Africa for a sustained period, even though he is older than de Kock. "It's probably better that I got selected now that I am older and know my game. It's better for me in the long-term," he said. "I am fit and strong and I am only 30, so I hope I've still got six or seven good years to give." Whether they are in Bangladesh or Benoni.