South Africa have some extra time to choose their next Test captain, with their July-August series against West Indies set to be rescheduled and the FTP likely to be reworked after the ICC meeting this week. That means they may not play Test cricket until much later in the year, or even until 2021, many months after Faf du Plessis stepped down with no obvious successor in sight.
So far, five players have put themselves forward and one other, Quinton de Kock, has been ruled out of the reckoning because he has already been tasked with leading the white-ball sides. While director of cricket and former captain Graeme Smith deliberates the appointment, ESPNcricinfo has created a cheat sheet for him, identifying some of the pros and cons of each candidate.
Markram sent out what could be seen as a mixed message about the Test captaincy recently, when, in the same sentence, he said he would give "an arm and a leg" for the position and also that he didn't want to "become desperate" for the job. His enthusiasm could be cloaked by the caution his natural humility brings, or simply the years of expectation he has carried with him. Markram has been linked with leadership ever since he took the Under-19 side to World Cup glory in 2014 and this would seem the obvious opportunity to anoint him, even if he won't say so himself.
Pros: Markram is 25, and so offers South Africa the opportunity to look at the long term. With the team in transition, appointing Markram would signal both the changing of eras and the taking of an exciting risk. With only 20 Tests caps and less than three years in the international game, Markram is relatively inexperienced at the highest level, even though he has his age-group credentials to fall back on. The last time South Africa took a chance on a young leader was when Smith was appointed in 2003 and a decade later, his Test team was the best in the world.
Cons: Before he broke his finger in the 2019 Boxing Day Test against England, which ruled him out of the rest of the series, Markram was set to be dropped after a series of poor performances. He crossed 20 only once in six innings last summer, his struggles against spin were amplified in India and he seemed to be rushing through his strokes against pace. In Markram's absence Pieter Malan was selected and he performed admirably. And his brother Janneman, who debuted in ODIs, is also knocking on the Test door. Before Markram can be made captain, he needs to get his place in the team back and produce some performances that show he is going to keep it.
Almost every conversation in South African cricket in the 2019-20 season included Temba Bavuma. He was injured at the start, dropped when he recovered, put in the centre of a racial storm, scored a first-class career-best and was re-selected. In all that, he maintained a dignified silence and when he spoke, explained that he understood why he was left out, what he stood for and why he needed to keep improving. Bavuma has the backing of assistant coach Enoch Nkwe, who called him a "strong leader, very smart" and "able to lead a massive group to greater heights," and is seen as the popular choice by many South Africans fans.
Pros: It has been almost three decades since the unification of South Africa's white and non-white cricket boards, and in that time, the country has not had a black African captain. Bavuma provides the best chance of changing that. Don't read that as "Bavuma should be made captain because he is black," but rather "Bavuma could be made captain, and him being black is incidental." He has proven himself as a leader at the Lions, whom he led to back-to-back first-class titles. He thrives under pressure, is an eloquent speaker, unafraid to discuss uncomfortable issues and understands his position as a role model and unifier of South Africans of all colours.
Cons: After 40 Tests, Bavuma still only has one hundred to his name and an average of just above 30. He will be the first to admit that is not good enough to merit a regular spot in the team and he needs to start scoring big runs before he can be promoted to captain. There is also the danger that appointing him could be seen as paying political lip-service, which could damage his credibility.
Had du Plessis' tenure run its natural course to the end of the T20 World Cup and the CSA administration not imploded, Elgar would have been the natural successor to the Test captaincy. He is the most experienced player in the Test team, in terms of number of matches and years in the game (not counting du Plessis, who remains available for selection), and is well-versed with the various challenges of the international circuit. While he understands his seniority, he does not carry any entitlement. He told ESPNcricinfo that the captaincy role was not a job for which one could be interviewed, but instead an appointment made by outside authorities, who would decide what's best for the team.
Pros: Although Elgar's summer was lean by his standards, he would be a captain that leads through performances, having excelled for South Africa over several years. Elgar also has first-hand knowledge of a variety of conditions including Australia, England, New Zealand, India, Sri Lanka, the UAE and Zimbabwe, having been on every tour for the last eight years and would thus be an excellent resource for a young team. He has led at the highest level before, in du Plessis' absence at Lord's in 2017 and Johannesburg in 2019 against Pakistan, so he has a small taste of the requirements, and has captained at franchise, provincial and school level.
Cons: The first time Elgar captained the Test team, he was only too happy to give the armband back, saying he realised it was a job that required a lot more than he thought. However, he has since admitted that leadership comes naturally to him and indicated he would like to give the Test captaincy another go. Still, Elgar is notorious for being easily irritated, and would not be an obvious choice from a man-management perspective. At a time when South African cricket needs its captain to also be both a mediator and a messenger between the players and administration, media and fans, Elgar may not be the obvious choice.
Rassie van der Dussen's performance was the only positive South Africa took from their disastrous 2019 World Cup campaign, where he finished as their second-highest run-scorer and their most composed player. Van der Dussen has a temperament honed by seasons of hard work on South Africa's amateur and franchise scene which almost went unrewarded. It was only after his success in the inaugural edition of the Mzansi Super League, where he topped the charts, that he finally caught the national selectors' attention and he made it count. Within a year, he was capped in all formats. Van der Dussen doesn't have much captaincy experience at domestic level but has the swagger of a seasoned professional and would provide South Africa with a sense of security in knowing they have picked someone who has been around the block to lead them.
Pros: Having clawed his way into the national side, van der Dussen understands the amount of effort it will take to haul South Africa from the lower half of the World Test Championship table to somewhere more respectable, and he has shown he has the determination to take them there. He is not easily affected by difficult circumstances, meets challenges head on and is widely respected for the ease with which he adapted to international cricket. His early showings have been consistent and though he is yet to score an international century, he reads the game well and responds to situations with a combination of calm and confidence.
Cons: Van der Dussen has only played four Tests, which makes him the least experienced member of the batting line-up, and he may need more time to prove his long-form credentials. With expectations on him rising as the summer wore on, his form tailed off and he was rested for the ODIs against Australia. South Africa may want to assess how much he has been asked to take on before anything else is added to it.
The wildcard entry, Maharaj would probably not have been considered if he hadn't put himself forward as a candidate. He stunned South Africans when he revealed that not only did he want to be Test captain, but he also had designs on shorter-formats and a World Cup win. Spinners are often disregarded in this country and rarely put into positions of leadership. Only one - Johan Botha - has captained the side since readmission but Maharaj has presented the possibility there could be another.
Pros: Maharaj is a true student of the game with a stellar work ethic, excellent tactical knowledge and would be a fresh perspective to a country known for conservative game plans. He has often been entrusted with great responsibility at Test level, where he is South Africa's most successful spinner post readmission, and has shown he can control proceedings from one end, which he could do in a greater capacity if needed. He led the Dolphins franchise to the top of the one-day cup table over the summer, and it brought out the best in him, earning him an ODI recall.
Cons: Being a nation of pace and bounce, there are occasions when South Africa choose to play to their advantage completely and leave their spinner out, which could prove problematic if the spinner is also the captain. It would require a fundamental shift in mindset to always have a spinner in the Test XI, which may not necessarily be a bad thing.