Ryan McLaren has been earmarked as the next South Africa Test allrounder after he was re-awarded a national contract. McLaren has been a regular across the ODI and Twenty20 formats this summer and will come into consideration for the Test team as Jacques Kallis reaches the twilight years of his decorated career.
Although McLaren cannot be a direct replacement for Kallis, because he will not bat as high up the order, the national selectors have indicated he may slot in lower down.
"We know that Jacques Kallis will not be around indefinitely and we have to look at finding another allrounder for the Test side," Andrew Hudson, convener of selectors told ESPNcricinfo. "That No. 7 spot means we could play someone like Ryan there instead of the extra batsmen."
Kallis was injured in every one of the last five series he has played in, a sign that 18 years of international cricket are taking their toll. His niggles have ranged from back spasms to a hamstring strain and he is being carefully managed as he enters the final stretch.
Kallis will no longer play bilateral T20 or one-day series, saving himself for major tournaments. That opened the door for McLaren, who has yo-yoed in and out of the national side for four years, to establish a more permanent place for himself in the shorter formats.
He notched up a career best 4 for 46 against New Zealand in the first ODI in January and then hit a six off the last ball in the third match to win South Africa that fixture. "His short-form game has been fantastic and we are really impressed with his skill levels. We knows his game very well now," Hudson said.
Like Robin Peterson, McLaren has benefited from a longer run in the team, aided by the fact that he had few competitors for the all-rounders' spot. His only real challenger, Albie Morkel, has been a victim of indifferent form and injuries and has fallen behind.
As a sign of how far, Morkel was not re-contracted. "We never like to say it's the end of the road for players and if Albie has a good season, there is no reason why we can't use him but in the shorter format we need to look forward. For now we have one or two other options," Hudson said. Chris Morris, who was not awarded a contract is one of those and remains in the plans for the future.
Hudson and his panel also seem to have put an end to the international careers of Jacques Rudolph and Ashwell Prince. Rudolph was dropped after the Adelaide Test against Australia in November last year but remained a reserve batsman in the squad. His second-coming began with him as an opener before he was dropped down to No. 6 but his lack of runs under pressure saw him make way for Dean Elgar. Prince has not played for South Africa since the Boxing Day Test of 2011.
The selectors have, however, given Imran Tahir and Thami Tsolekile some rope as both were retained. "Robbie is in position as the Test spinner but we go to some places in the next year where we may need two spinners and Imran is still very much in the plans," Hudson said. South Africa play Pakistan in October in the United Arab Emirates where Tahir is likely to feature. Tsolekile remains the reserve wicketkeeper who Hudson said is "not far off," playing for South Africa.
New faces on the list include young tearaway Marchant de Lange. The 22-year-old spent most of the past season recovering from a stress fracture but made his comeback earlier this year. Rusty Theron, who was not contracted, had the same injury and has also just returned to the game.
De Lange has played two first-class and six T20 matches and is reaching speeds in the late 140 kphs and occasionally 150 kph plus. "We've watched him in a few of the T20s and we see he has got his pace back and can get quicker. We will definitely be able to use a bowler like him," Hudson said.
After becoming the most successful bowling debutant of 2011 with 7 for 84 against Sri Lanka, he was South Africa's first-choice reserve bowler. He will now compete with Rory Kleinveldt, also newly contracted, and Kyle Abbott who took 7 for 29 against Pakistan in Centurion but was not contracted for a place.
Dean Elgar, who took over from Rudolph, and Aaron Phangiso are the other rookies. Phangiso is the third spinner on the contract list, a reward, Hudson said, for his fine domestic form. "He has been consistent for the Lions and that is what we base contracts on - not just one or two performances," Hudson said.
The rest of the group are made up of familiar players with Colin Ingram and Wayne Parnell retaining their places. JP Duminy is also on the list and is expected to recover from his ruptured Achilles' tendon in time for the Champions Trophy in June and will contest for a place next season. Johan Botha, who was released from his contract in September last year when he relocated to Australia, was not considered.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent