A new-look South Africa Test squad, which sees maiden call-ups for batsman Stiaan van Zyl and offspinner Dane Piedt, will travel to Sri Lanka next month for Hashim Amla's first assignment as captain. Also in the touring party are Quinton de Kock, Kyle Abbott and Wayne Parnell, who form part of the group that will take South Africa forward following the retirements of Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis last summer.
Kallis is part of the ODI squad, which Faf du Plessis makes a return to, in place of Smith. Ryan McLaren is the second all-rounder in the group with Aaron Phangiso as the second specialist spinner to back up Imran Tahir. Beuran Hendricks is the only uncapped player to be included in the ODI outfit, in place of Lonwabo Tsotsobe who misses the trip after undergoing ankle surgery. There was no place for Robin Peterson in either squad.
"There is a lot of talent that is around and the responsibility is on us to nurture it and make sure that we set it up for success," Andrew Hudson, convener of selectors said. "We want to make sure guys who perform at domestic level get recognised and more so guys who perform over a period of time."
Consistency is what earned van Zyl, a left-handed batsman, his place in the Test squad. Van Zyl was the top run-scorer in last season's first-class competition with 933 runs, including three centuries, from 10 matches at an average of 58.31. That came after he finished second on the charts in the 2012-13 competition.
Although van Zyl plays in the top-order at franchise level, he may find himself competing with Quinton de Kock for the No.7 spot in the Test team. Dean Elgar, who was used in the lower middle order in the past, is likely to be promoted to his preferred spot of opening the batting, in Smith's place. "Dean has shown us that he can open and has done so. In all likelihood, he will open with Alviro," Hudson said.
South Africa may also choose to play a second specialist spinner, rather than an extra batsman, given the conditions. That would open the door for Piedt, who was the leading wicket-taker in last season's first-class competition to make his Test debut. Piedt, an offspinner with a famed doosra, claimed 45 wickets at 19.93 and was picked ahead of Simon Harmer, who led the wicket-takers' list in the 2011-12 season and was second last summer.
Harmer has also played for the South Africa A side and was a non-playing member of the Test squad against Australia in March and told ESPNcricinfo last week he felt he "ticked all the boxes" for selection. Instead, he will likely be part of the A side that travels to Australia. Hudson said he is not out of the long-term plans.
"We gave him a high performance top-up contract so he is also someone that we like," Hudson said. "Dane Piedt has done it for the Cobras. He has had a fantastic season and we are delighted with his domestic form. It's good to have an offspinner who can do something else with the ball and we think this is a wonderful opportunity to develop him."
Although the sub-continent may also have been a place for Harmer to get some experience, Hudson explained South Africa did not want to carry a bloated touring party. "Fifteen players is enough. When guys don't play, sometimes it's not good for them," he said. "I'd rather have them in the academy and the A side than sitting and waiting for games. We've seen too much of guys who don't play whose game just goes backwards."
Parnell is an example of exactly that. The left-armer's early promise was offset by too much time on the sidelines and a spate of injuries, which he seems to have put behind him. He played eight matches for the Delhi Daredevils at the IPL and has returned to full fitness, thus meriting an inclusion in both the Test and ODI squad.
South Africa's fifty-over outfit is laden with left-armers. Also in the mix is Hendricks, who played at the World T20 in Bangladesh, and could form part of the 2015 World Cup squad. "It's nice for Beuran to come in. He is someone that is on the up. Lets see where he is in six months time," Hudson said.
His hopes may depend on the progress Tsotosbe makes in his recovery. Hudson admitted not having him was a big blow to South Africa's plans and they are hopeful of his availability later in the year. "I am concerned that we haven't got Lopsy [Tsotsobe] now. I hope Lopsy will be back sooner rather than later," Hudson said. "Part of this World Cup build-up is that you want those combinations working."
That is why Kallis is expected to play in most of the ODIs between July and the World Cup, which includes a series against Zimbabwe, a tri-series with Zimbabwe and Australia, limited-overs visits to both Australia and New Zealand and a home series against West Indies. "We want Jacques to play as part of the mix. He's got to be playing and we'll trying out different combinations," Hudson said. "There will be guys who will come out of nowhere; who put their hands up but for the World Cup, I'm hoping the core stays pretty similar."
The 2015 World Cup and ODI cricket is the focus of the next eight months, which is also partly why South Africa's captain in that format, AB de Villiers, was not elevated to Test captain. "The build up to the World Cup - we don't want to disrupt that," Hudson said. "AB's captaincy has improved dramatically in the last while. We are delighted to support him and keep that momentum going."