South Africa's selectors have sprung a surprise or two in their 14-man squad to tour India, which was unveiled this morning. As had been widely anticipated, Herschelle Gibbs has chosen to stay at home, amid fears that he might be prosecuted by the Delhi Police if he returned to the scene of his infamous dalliance with match-fixing in 1999-2000.
But Gibbs's fellow waverer, Nicky Boje, looks set to tour, and has even been named as vice-captain for the two-Test trip, which gets underway on November 11. "Nicky has indicated to me that he is very keen to tour," said Omar Henry, South Africa's convenor of selectors, "but the ultimate decision must be taken by the player himself."
Gibbs, in the meantime, has already made his decision, after answering a questionnaire from Delhi Police that reawakened an issue that led to his six-month ban from the game in 2000. "I am extremely disappointed at having to declare myself unavailable for the tour," he said. "The questions sent from Delhi were very similar to those I answered four years ago. I have served my ban and in the process learnt a very hard lesson."
Politics, both international and domestic, have clouded the selection issues for this trip, after it was announced by Gerald Majola, the chief executive of South Africa's United Cricket Board, that the squad would include five non-white players. As a result, there are some high-profile absentees from the squad, not least the former wicketkeeper and vice-captain, Mark Boucher, whose place had been in jeopardy ever since the new coach, Ray Jennings, cast aspersions about his attitude.
"I've tried to send a message to Boucher," Jennings was quoted as saying. "He must be aware that smoke is starting to come up, and he'd better wake up and turn on the heat." It appears he was unable to do so in time, and his place has been taken by the young Western Province wicketkeeper, Thami Tsolekile, who shadowed Boucher on the 2003 tour of England.
Tsolekile is one of four uncapped players in the squad, alongside the batsman Hashim Amla, the pace bowler Zander de Bruyn, and Alfonso Thomas, an allrounder who takes the place of Lance Klusener, who is once again out of favour under the new regime. Two other players were discussed at length: the seamer Charl Langeveldt and AB de Villiers, the Northerns wicketkeeper who has been in sparkling form with the bat. Amla is another of the in-form players on the domestic circuit, with four hundreds to date this season. He becomes the first player of Asian descent to represent South Africa.
There are some notable returnees to the squad as well. Andrew Hall is back for the first time since the fourth Test against West Indies in January, while Justin Ontong is recalled for his first stab at Test cricket since the series against Australia in 2001-02. The spinner, Robin Peterson, who had been widely tipped for a place, misses out, along with Paul Adams, whose cause was not helped when he was dropped by Western Province last week.
Squad Graeme Smith (capt), Boeta Dippenaar, Martin van Jaarsveld, Jacques Kallis, Jacques Rudolph, Hashim Amla, Justin Ontong, Shaun Pollock, Andrew Hall, Nicky Boje, Zander de Bruyn, Alfonso Thomas, Thami Tsolekile (wk), Makhaya Ntini.