South Africa have named six uncapped players in their squad for the first two Tests against England, the first of which begins on Boxing Day. Fast bowlers Beuran Hendricks and Dane Paterson, opening batsman Pieter Malan, allrounder Dwaine Pretorius, wicketkeeper-batsman Rudi Second and middle-order batsman Rassie van der Dussen are all in line for a debut.
Aidem Markram has also been named in the squad after he had fractured his wrist while on tour on India and hasn't played since, but Lungi Ngidi, who suffered a Grade 1 hamstring tear ahead of the Mzansi Super League (MSL) playoff, was not considered. The squad includes only a single specialist spinner in Keshav Maharaj, with Dane Piedt and Senuran Muthusamy both left out from the party that toured India. Theunis de Bruyn, the No. 3 batsman, was the biggest casualty from the India whitewash and has been dropped while allrounder Andile Phehlukwayo has been recalled.
"The high number of uncapped players coming into the squad is a reflection of our policy to acknowledge players who do well at franchise level and have put their hands up for selection," Linda Zondi, CSA's recently reinstated independent selector, said.
Paterson is the best example of that. He is second on the list of wicket-takers in the 4-Day Franchise Series, with 18 wickets at 21.55. The leading wicket-taker, Malusi Siboto, was not considered while the third-placed bowler, 19-year-old Gerald Coetzee, suffered a hamstring injury at the Mzansi Super League (MSL) and will play in the Under-19 World Cup instead. Paterson's competition is likely to be Hendricks, who has only played in two first-class matches this summer and has taken three wickets at 32.33.
"Paterson has been the second leading wicket-taker in four-day cricket this season, including a seven-wicket haul in an innings, and we want to go into the Test series with a full arsenal of fast bowlers who have always provided one of our traditional strengths. Beuran Hendricks is also part of this strategy and adds variety to the attack as a left-arm swing bowler," Zondi said.
This means South Africa's first-choice attack is likely to be made up of familiar names: Rabada, Philander, Maharaj and the recently-capped Anrich Nortje. Paterson and Hendricks could come into the mix if an all-pace attack is considered, especially at the usually spicy Centurion wicket where the first Test will be played.
South Africa may also consider a seam-bowling allrounder, which is where Pretorius and Phehlukwayo could be in contention. Pretorius has recovered from a broken hand he suffered during the MSL, and is fit for today's final. Phehlukwayo, meanwhile, has been a regular white-ball player for South Africa. He has played just four Tests - two against Bangladesh, one against Zimbabwe and one against India - but scored 156 runs in six innings and took five wickets in his three matches for Dolphins this summer. Allrounder Wiaan Mulder, who made his Test debut against Sri Lanka in February, was not considered because of a back injury.
South Africa's bigger conundrum will be in the batting line-up, where everything from Elgar's opening partner to the middle order is up for debate. Markram has not played any cricket since punching a wall in Pune, but will have a chance to prove his worth in a round of 4-day fixtures starting Thursday. If he doesn't impress, Malan may come into the reckoning. He lies 10th on the list of run-getters, with 199 runs in six innings at an average of 33.10, identical figures to his younger brother Janneman, who has also been overlooked.
At No.3, Zubayr Hamza has been preferred to de Bruyn, who scored 82 runs in five innings in India (one as a concussion substitute) before being dropped. De Bruyn has instead been picked in the South Africa A side that will play England in a warm-up match from Friday, and could make a case for selection during the second half of the Test series. Temba Bavuma will captain the A team, which also includes Reeza Hendricks and Kyle Verreynne, both of whom may consider themselves unlucky to have missed out on the Test squad.
Verreynne sits fourth on the first-class run-charts and Hendricks ninth, but van der Dussen is the batsman the selectors have gone with for the first two Tests.
Van der Dussen was South Africa's second-highest run-scorer during the World Cup where he showed remarkable composure. He also hung around the Test squad for the first match in India before returning home to score 307 runs in three matches for the Lions at an average of 76.75, including one hundred and two fifties. Van der Dussen is currently 10th on the Franchise 4-day charts and third on the averages.
The wicketkeeper position, which has been Quinton de Kock's for most of his career, is also in competition. Second, who was included in the squad to tour India but withdrew after an injury, is back in contention. Second has scored 220 runs in four Franchise first-class matches this season at 31.42 and has been included in the squad, leaving no room for Heinrich Klaasen, who made his debut in India.
The A team, meanwhile, will be coached by former Test opener Ashwell Prince, and includes MSL stars such as batsman Pite van Biljon and bowler Nandre Burger. Prince will be assisted by former national assistant coach Malinbongwe Maketa and former Warriors coach Piet Botha.
"The selection of the A side to play England in a three-day tour match is confirmation of our policy to make this team our official South African second XI and it has a good mix of experienced and young players," Zondi said.
Squad: Faf du Plessis (capt), Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Dean Elgar, Beuran Hendricks, Keshav Maharaj, Pieter Malan, Aiden Markram, Zubayr Hamza, Anrich Nortje, Dane Paterson, Andile Phehlukwayo, Vernon Philander, Dwaine Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada, Rudi Second, Rassie van der Dussen
South Africa A squad: Temba Bavuma, Nandre Burger, Theunis de Bruyn, Reeza Hendricks, Pieter Malan, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dane Piedt, Lutho Sipamla, Glenton Stuurman, Pite van Biljon, Kyle Verreynne