Ottis Gibson touches down in South Africa on Monday morning, ten days before his first assignment begins, with plenty to do.
South Africa host Bangladesh for two Tests, three ODIs and two T20Is, seemingly a gentle warm-up to their busiest summer to date. But they won't be fooled. The last time South Africa faced Bangladesh, they were beaten in the ODIs, while the Tests were rained out, starting off a downward spiral that saw them slip to No. 7 on the rankings. They have since climbed back to No. 2, but as Gibson's predecessor, Russell Domingo said on his departure, they are "far from the complete article" as a Test side. Though Gibson's main focus is the 2019 World Cup, he will also have to try finding the missing pieces of the Test puzzle, and that task starts immediately.
The opening round of first-class fixtures begins on Tuesday, and at Gibson's request, all available national players will be in action. Gibson is expected to attend at least one of the matches, though he could get to two or even all three.
He has confirmed an appearance at SuperSport Park - where Titans play Dolphins - which will allow him to see captain Faf du Plessis as well as most of the current Test squad, including Dean Elgar, Quinton de Kock, Morne Morkel, Chris Morris, Andile Phehlukwayo and Keshav Maharaj. Heino Kuhn will not be in action as he is out injured. Down the road at Wanderers, Lions play Warriors, and if Gibson pops in there, he will be able to cast his eye over Stephen Cook, Kagiso Rabada and Dwaine Pretorius. Theoretically, it will also be possible for Gibson to drive out to Bloemfontein, where Knights face Cobras, and watch Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Dane Piedt, Theunis de Bruyn, David Miller and Duanne Olivier.
The Test squad is set to be named during the week, but there are still some key areas for Gibson to focus on.
The opening pair
Despite Elgar's emergence as one their most reliable performers, South Africa have been unable to find consistency with their openers. Kuhn has a knee injury that will likely force him out of contention. The other candidates are Cook, who surged back to form against India A last month, and Aiden Markram, who will captain a CSA invitation XI in a warm-up match against Bangladesh in Benoni. Gibson may not get to see Markram, but blooding the youngster seems an obvious route, because sterner tests await South Africa this summer.
Batsmen of colour
South Africa's transformation requirement is a topic of discussion, especially in light of JP Duminy's Test retirement. South Africa are now left with only two regular batsmen of colour: Hashim Amla and Temba Bavuma, and Gibson will be hard-pressed to find another soon. Cobras' Jason Smith and Dolphins' Khaya Zondo are candidates, but neither have the weight of runs that will knock down doors. That opens up an opportunity for someone else to make a mark, especially in the first half of the summer. Lions' Reeza Hendricks and Omphile Ramela are two others on the radar, and Gibson will want one of them to perform before the transformation numbers become an issue.
Balancing the attack
Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander would be automatic picks, but neither are available for the first-class matches this week. Steyn's recovery could only come with the T20 Global League in November, and though Philander is expected to recover sooner, his battle with fitness does not bode well. Morne Morkel has emerged as the most dependable of the quicks, so he will have to lead the attack with Rabada. Gibson will likely look for the more consistent bowler between Morris and Olivier, but Phehlukwayo may be able to force his way in. Over the season, South Africa will want greater resources in this department, be it a tried and tested one like Wayne Parnell, or youngsters like Lungi Ngidi and Junior Dala.
The quick turnaround between Gibson's arrival and the Bangladesh series means that Domingo's support staff will work for Gibson at first. Assistant coach Adrian Birrell, bowling coach Charl Langeveldt, batting coach Neil McKenzie and spin consultant Claude Henderson will be at Gibson's disposal, but it will be up to him how long they stay. There is strong suggestion that Birrell will not remain assistant, with Lions coach Geoffrey Toyana and Warriors coach Malibongwe Maketa in the running to become the new second-in-command. Langeveldt, McKenzie and Henderson may consider themselves on trial as things stand, especially as Gibson begins to establish his coaching style in the South African set-up.