South Africa will make several key changes for the final Test against Pakistan at Cape Town beginning on Friday. Boeta Dippenaar will open the batting with Graeme Smith, Andre Nel will be replaced by Dale Steyn, who is fit, and Shaun Pollock has been rested ahead of the one-day series.
AB de Villiers will be dropped down the order to No 6 now that Herschelle Gibbs has lost his appeal against a two-Test ban. Gibbs will now miss one Test - the final Test at Cape Town - one ODI and a Twenty20 international against Pakistan.
His being unavailable is a lifeline for de Villiers, who would otherwise have been omitted from the starting XI. Mickey Arthur, the South Africa coach, told Independent Online that it was vital that de Villiers got his confidence back as he will play a key role in the World Cup.
de Villiers had a poor series against India and struggled in the first two Tests against Pakistan as well. He scored just 135 runs in ten innings, of which the last eight were as opener. His replacement at the top, Dippenaar, last played a Test in May 2006 against New Zealand at home.
The change at the top was prompted by the poor starts South Africa have had all summer and a disastrous collapse in the first-innings at Port Elizabeth that allowed Pakistan to level the series at 1-1.
"It was a sloppy batting performance and we were soft in the way we gave our wickets away," said Arthur. "That is what it came down to. When you get out for 124, you are under pressure for the rest of the game. Something cracks. I was very proud with the way we fought from halfway into day one and we did well to give ourselves even a little bit of a sniff. But in the end the pressure told."
Gibbs's unavailability was a huge blow to South Africa's middle-order. "It always does disrupt things," added Arthur. "Herschelle is finding some very good form now and he has slotted in very nicely at the No 6 position. He has given us quite a lot of depth. Obviously we have a plan B and we will switch to that."
South Africa's team composition problems don't end there with the balance between resting key players and trying to win a Test series. Arthur was reluctant to enter a match without both Pollock and Makhaya Ntini and in the end it is Pollock who has been benched.
"I can go in with one and not the other and rest the one but to lose both of them you are losing a huge amount of experience in such a crucial game," said Arthur. "But I guess that is the gamble we took and it did not pan out. Hall covers Pollock and Kallis, he covers the all-rounder positions. Morkel covers the strike bowling position and, of course, Dale Steyn is fit.
"He will take the place of Andre Nel. Andre struggles in back-to-back Test matches because he is so big and he has had a slight recurrence of that bruising on the foot again."
South Africa (from) Graeme Smith (capt), Boeta Dippenaar, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, Ashwell Prince, AB de Villiers, Mark Boucher (wk), Andrew Hall, Morne Morkel, Paul Harris, Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini