Rudi Second pushes his case forward for South Africa call-up
If Second continues his good form in India, he could challenge Heinrich Klaasen for the reserve wicketkeeper's spot in the national side
India A's quicks Navdeep Saini and Mohammed Siraj were zipping the new ball off the seam and kept threatening both the edges to leave South Africa A in a fix at 93 for 4 in the 36th over. Enter Knights' MVP Rudi Second. His team-mates kept exiting at the other end, but Second held the innings together with a counterpunching 94 off 139 balls. He didn't budge until the 85th over, and eventually walked off to a rousing reception from the South Africa camp.
Moments later, he beamed like a Cheshire cat and warmly welcomed a small group of reporters. He then picked up a mobile phone and feigned to make a call back home to his mother. He has begun this tour on a positive note with an unbeaten 44 in the warm-up fixture and a near hundred on Saturday against an attack comprising three India internationals and one (Saini) who had recently received a call-up to the Test squad for the Test against Afghanistan. When will Second's call-up arrive?
Second has racked up the runs in the past two Sunfoil series: 684 runs in 14 innings at 52.61 in 2016-17, followed by 803 in 14 innings at 80.30 in 2017-18. Notably, Second was one of the three players to have scored a double-hundred in the 2017-18 Sunfoil competition; Dean Elgar and Stiaan van Zyl being the other two. Yet, there's a pessimism that franchise players can't cope with the international game these days. "The gulf between domestic cricket and international cricket is still quite a wide one," Ottis Gibson, South Africa's national coach, had said after the T20I series against India earlier this year. But during his innings at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, Second made his case for higher honours although the pitch was more South African than Indian. The day-one track did not offer much purchase for Yuzvendra Chahal and Axar Patel, but Second showed nifty footwork - pressing right forward to smother the ball or going right back to deal with the short ones. And against the fast bowlers, he particularly favoured the cover drive and executed it well as opposed to his team-mates who left their feet pinned to the crease and instead threw their hands at the ball.
"When I walked out to bat, I wanted to bat with a lot of intent," Second said. "I wanted to get into strong positions and I was just lucky to get a couple of balls in the gaps and get a couple of boundaries early on. I just looked to bat with as much intent as possible.
"There was also something in it [the pitch] for the seam bowlers. When there was energy on the ball, there was enough sideways movement, which made it difficult especially from a fuller length. So, the bowlers were always in the game."
In the senior team, Heinrich Klaasen is currently the second-choice wicketkeeper after Quinton de Kock, having sparkled against India in the limited-overs series as well as in the Sunfoil series. He had received his maiden call-up to the Test squad for South Africa's series in New Zealand in March 2017 as the reserve wicketkeeper, and was more recently part of the Test squad in Sri Lanka too. He has also had a stint with Rajasthan Royals in the IPL 2018 and is already considered as one of the better players of spin in the senior group.
Second, for his part, is set to face his spin test against Chahal and Axar, when the Chinnaswamy pitch is likely to break up on the third and fourth day.
"This is probably the closest you can get to a South African wicket here [in India]," Second said. "You have to play the ball late and the angle of your bat needs change. You can get away playing away from the body and hitting through the covers a bit in South Africa. When there's seam movement it's obviously difficult and you can't take things for granted against spin. We maybe got away today with these conditions but on the third and fourth day, it will be a lot difficult."
Second also credited his stint with Milnrow Cricket Club in the Lancashire League in 2014 for preparing him for bigger challenges. As a professional, he did the heavy lifting for the club, reeling off no less than seven hundreds and as many fifties in 19 innings.
"You learn a lot of responsibility playing club cricket in the UK," Second said. "The club relies heavily on you to score runs and so you learn how to build an innings and bat for long periods of time and it helps you learn to bat with the lower-order batters in situations like this today. You learn how to do it in England and I built some great friendships there as well. Nothing but good times for me in the UK."
If Second scores heavily for South Africa A in India, he could seriously challenge Klaasen for the reserve wicketkeeper's spot. But Second insisted he wasn't looking too far ahead and simply wanted to "send it upstairs to sort itself".
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo