Quinton de Kock has been named South Africa's Test captain for the 2020/21 season. de Kock, who already leads the ODI and T20I squads, will only be in the role temporarily, with a permanent appointee to be finalised in the coming months.
de Kock's elevation to the leadership was announced on Friday, and comes eight months after Graeme Smith, South Africa's director of cricket, said de Kock would not be made the Test captain so that he could "remain fresh", given his already large basket of responsibilities. However, given the relatively lighter Test schedule in store for South Africa, the selection committee felt de Kock could handle the role for this summer.
South Africa are due to play seven Tests, two against Sri Lanka, two in Pakistan and three against Australia. They have no Test cricket scheduled between March and December, by which time they hope to have chosen their long-term Test leader. For now, de Kock has shown willingness to take on the red-ball captaincy and the selectors believe he is the right choice.
"Quinton is happy to continue in the role for the next season and is comfortable with the balance of the workload and we back him fully as a captain," Victor Mptisang, convenor of selectors, said. "We are also pleased with the leadership group in the team and are cultivating a strong individual leadership culture at the same time, so that the team produces a sustainable stream of potential captains for the future."
Ultimately, the decision to appoint de Kock may have come, not because of "time constraints," as Mptisang suggested but because South Africa do not have a stand-out candidate for the job. Ten months have passed since Faf du Plessis stepped down in February, and in that time, Dean Elgar, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram and Temba Bavuma all made their interest in the position known, but there are question marks around each of them as long-term choices.
"Quinton is happy to continue in the role for the next season and is comfortable with the balance of the workload and we back him fully as a captain. We are also pleased with the leadership group in the team and are cultivating a strong individual leadership culture at the same time, so that the team produces a sustainable stream of potential captains for the future."Victor Mptisang, convenor of selectors
Elgar was considered the most obvious choice, given his seniority. He has played 63 Tests and has been part of the set-up for as long as du Plessis. Elgar has even done the job once before, against England at Lord's when du Plessis went on paternity leave in 2017. At the time, he indicated he did not want the job permanently but has since changed his mind. However, South Africa are likely to want to him concentrate leading with the bat. Elgar has 12 Test hundreds to his name but they tend to come at a rate of one or two a season and South Africa might be hoping for a few more.
Markram, who is most likely going to partner Elgar at the top, has only just returned to the Test squad after spending most of last summer out of international cricket with a broken finger. He has three hundreds from this last three first-class innings, which bodes well, but had a lean patch in Test cricket before he was injured. Markram needs to show consistency at the highest level but, as a former under-19 captain, chances are if he has a productive season, he could be the named Test captain.
The same can be said of Bavuma, who led the Lions franchise to the first-class trophy last summer. Bavuma was dropped last season, prompting a race-based furore, but has not scored a Test hundred since 2016. That has to change before he can be considered for the captaincy. If it does and the runs flow, it will be a tough call between him and Markram.
And Maharaj, well-intentioned as his leadership goals may be, has the disadvantage of a being a left-arm spinner in a country of quicks. Although he is first-choice in his department and will play every Test on the subcontinent, he is often not guaranteed a spot in the XI when South Africa play at home, which would make it difficult to make him captain.
Rassie van der Dussen's name has also done the rounds as a possible leader after his impressive showing at the 2019 World Cup (where he was South Africa's second-leading run-scorer in an otherwise dismal campaign) and scored two half-centuries in his first three Test innings. But van der Dussen's Test career is only four matches old and he need a little more time in the Test team before he can be promoted to its captain.
Van der Dussen also threw his weight behind de Kock during the recent T20I series against England, when questions were asked about whether de Kock was having a tough time handling the pressures of captaining, opening the batting, keeping wicket, balancing a side that had no allrounders available and dealing with changing transformation targets. "I don't think it's getting tricky for Quinton de Kock," van der Dussen had said. "I don't know why you would come with that angle. Quinny's a brilliant captain. On the field his cricket mind is absolutely brilliant, in the change-room he's really good, and he's one of the best players in the world, as we know."
Luckily, de Kock won't have quite that many things to think about in Tests. He will bat in the lower middle-order, most likely at No.6 or 7, and the responsibility of laying the foundation will lie with senior batsmen like Elgar, van der Dussen and du Plessis. With Kyle Verreynne in the squad, de Kock may also be relieved of the wicketkeeping gloves, if needs be.
The Test squad for Sri Lanka has one allrounder in it, in Wiaan Mulder, and Dwaine Pretorius could join if he recovers from a hamstring injury in time, making team balance a little less complicated. And CSA's interim board have confirmed that the transformation targets will revert to what they were last season, rather than increase, as was originally planned. That means South Africa need to field, on average over the course of a season, six players of colour of which a minimum of two must be black African. Call it politics or call it necessity, that is what every South African must learn to work with, and de Kock is no different. Welcome to it.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent