Du Plessis, Chris Morris get South Africa T20 call-up
Faf du Plessis, the middle order batsman, has been named in South Africa's 15-man squad for the unofficial Twenty20 tri-series against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, in Zimbabwe in June, while Chris Morris, the Highveld Lions allrounder, has received a maiden call-up.
The squad will be led by Johan Botha. AB de Villiers, allrounder Jacques Kallis and the fast-bowling pair of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel have been rested because all four played extensively during the recent IPL and will likely be needed in all three formats for the upcoming series against England.
Du Plessis has played 21 ODIs for South Africa but has never been part of the Twenty20 squad. He staked a claim for a place in the shortest format after a successful stint with Chennai Super Kings in IPL 2012. Du Plessis, who opened the batting and scored three half-centuries, held the orange cap for being the leading scorer in the tournament at one stage, although he finished 13th on the batting charts.
In a recent interview with ESPNcricinfo, du Plessis said, "If I could pick where to bat in 20-over cricket, I would say I'd like to open. It suits my style of batting because I am someone who can hit the ball over the top and along the ground, and I've learned when to hold back and when to go for it."
Du Plessis has been tipped to open the batting with world-record holder Richard Levi, although that would probably come at the expense of limited-overs vice-captain Hashim Amla. While du Plessis' inclusion in the national squad was expected, Morris' came as a complete surprise to everyone, including himself.
"One of my former provincial coaches, Lawrence Mahatlane called me up to say congratulations and I wasn't sure what he was talking about," Morris, who has also been picked in the South Africa A side to play Sri Lanka A, told ESPNcricinfo. "I don't know what to do yet. I'm not sure if I should jump and down or what. I was just happy to be playing franchise cricket and I didn't even think about the national side at all. I've come such a long way in such a short time, that definitely wasn't in my thoughts."
Morris has just completed his first full season as a franchise cricketer, having been spotted by former Highveld Lions coach Gordon Parsons in Centurion in 2009.
"Gordon saw me there and asked me if I wanted to go to trials at the Lions and I did," he said. "Before that I was playing club cricket in Pretoria and to be honest, I didn't really set the scene alight. But then I got offered to go to the Lions academy and the rest is history. The Lions have taught me everything I know about my game."
After playing in the amateur competition for a season, Morris was contracted to the Lions for the 2011-12 season. He scored two half-centuries and took 23 wickets at an average of 26.00 in the first-class competition and was the leading bowler overall in the MiWay T20 competition, with 21 wickets. It was his performances in the shortest format that earned him his national call-up.
"He was also very effective as a lower order hitter and played a very significant role in getting the Lions to the final," Cricket South Africa's selection convenor, Andrew Hudson, said.
Morris opened the bowling and stepped up to bowl at the death as well, two roles he has enjoyed. "I wanted that kind of responsibility because when I have that, then I focus more," Morris said.
While Morris has played club cricket in England before, he has never travelled as part of a tour, except at school, and has also never been to Zimbabwe. Most of the national squad are relative strangers to him as he has only met them as opponents occasionally in the past.
"I'm really excited and really looking forward to it," he said. "The more I can talk to people, the more I am going to learn."
The rest of the squad includes players who have been given opportunity in the past. Both Farhaan Behardien and Dane Vilas featured in South Africa's XI for a one-off Twenty20 against India in March. Behardien has been a consistent performer for the Titans in the last few seasons and will bat in the middle-order, while Dane Vilas will don the wicketkeeping gloves.
Botha continues as captain, after he also led the team in the match against India, an indication that he remains part of South Africa's World Twenty20 plans. He will be released from his national contract after the ICC event in September to captain South Australia and will not participate in the South African domestic season.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent