Van Zyl, Behardien tussle for Test spot

Farhaan Behardien goes over the top Getty Images

Stiaan van Zyl or Farhaan Behardien could be in line for a Test debut as South Africa seek to replace the recovering JP Duminy for the first Test against West Indies later this month. Duminy, who bats at No.7 in the longest format and has been out of action since late October, is only expected to recover from a knee niggle in time for the Boxing Day Test and will likely play in Port Elizabeth and Cape Town.

The three matches are South Africa's only Tests this summer and their first at home since Graeme Smith's retirement in March. They also present South Africa with an opportunity to extend the team's lead at the top of the Test rankings, which makes team selection for the series crucial. South Africa are currently ranked No.1 and any margin of victory over West Indies will keep them there, regardless of how Australia perform against India

Duminy has been a regular member of the Test team since 2012, although he spent six months on the sidelines after rupturing an Achilles tendon in Australia that year. He has since played in all South Africa's matches with the focus of his role to marshall the lower middle-order, a role the selectors may think Behardien, who bats in the middle order rather than van Zyl, a No.3 batsman, would be better suited to.

Behardien has played 84 first-class matches and has an average a fraction under 40, although he has yet to receive a Test call-up. He has been in action for South Africa's limited-overs sides, most recently in Australia, where he only managed one notable score in the ODI series - 63 in the final match - but received votes of confidence from Russell Domingo and AB de Villiers for his ability to be a "match-winner."

Both coach and captain stressed Behardien's domestic form, which has been best in the first-class format this summer, and the bowling option he offers, albeit medium-pace compared to Duminy's offspin. In four first-class franchise innings this season, Behardien has scored three fifties and averages 113.00.

Should the selectors choose to discard that small sample size and look to last summer's statistics, they will be unable to ignore Stiaan van Zyl. The Cobras left-hander was the top run-scorer in the 2013-14 first-class competition with 933 runs from 10 matches at 58.31 which included three hundreds and four fifties. He was rewarded for that showing when he was named in the squads to tour Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe this winter but he did not play a game.

The only thing that could consign van Zyl to the bench again would be whether the selectors feel he can do a job lower down in the line-up than he is used to. If a middle-order batsman is the specific requirement then David Miller would also be a contender for a Test cap.

The second debate the selectors will have is over the spinners' spot. They will have to choose between Dane Piedt, who has not had match-time since September while healing from a shoulder injury, and Imran Tahir, who has recently struggled with a hamstring niggle and will be needed for the World Cup.

Tahir was dropped for the one-off Test against Zimbabwe in favour of Piedt, who took eight wickets on debut, which suggested South Africa's spin preferences had changed. They may have to alter that again because of the recent spate of injuries and could end up going back to Robin Peterson, who has been in good form in limited-overs cricket this season, or turn to offspinner Simon Harmer and give him a debut. Harmer was the second-highest wicket-taker in last season's first-class competition, behind Piedt, and has been part of South Africa A sides.

Apart from these considerations, South Africa are otherwise expected to name their regular line-up with de Villiers and Faf du Plessis expected to recover from a rib and hip problem respectively and the premier pace pack of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel all fit. However, that does not mean there won't be pressure on at least one of the familiar faces. Opening batsman Alviro Petersen has gone 23 innings and as many months without a Test century and as the senior partner in the top two following the retirement of Graeme Smith, will be expected to step up.