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News

Simon Harmer returns to South Africa Test squad

The offspinner takes the place of George Linde, who is unavailable due to his impending wedding

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
26-Jan-2022
Simon Harmer took seven wickets for the match, Essex vs Gloucestershire, LV= Insurance County Championship, Chelmsford, September 06, 2021

Simon Harmer last played for South Africa in November 2015  •  Getty Images

Simon Harmer has been recalled to South Africa's Test squad for their two-Test tour of New Zealand next month. Harmer last played for the country on a tour of India in 2015 and signed a Kolpak deal with Essex in 2017. The offspinner has been included in the traveling group as back-up to Keshav Maharaj and in place of George Linde, who was unavailable for selection due to his impending wedding. Prenalen Subrayen, the other spinner who has recently been around the squad, was not considered because of a groin injury.
There is also a recall for seam bowler Lutho Sipamla, who missed out on tours to West Indies and the series against India at home. Sipamla joins a seven-strong seam contingent that will be headlined by Kagiso Rabada, who was rested from the ODI squad against India and also include Lungi Ngidi, Marco Jansen, Glenton Stuurman, another Kolpak-returnee Duanne Olivier and allrounder Wiaan Mulder. Sisanda Magala, who was in the Test squad for the India series, has been left out.
Anrich Nortje, who missed the India Test with a hip injury, remains out of action. Selection convener Victor Mpitsang told ESPNcricinfo that Nortje is aiming to be ready to play in the ODIs against Bangladesh at home in March.
The batters who did duty during the 2-1 series win against India all keep their places. Opener Aiden Markram remains part of the squad despite averaging under 25 in his last 19 Tests, with Sarel Erwee and Ryan Rickleton the other contenders for that berth. "We know Aiden has made some errors but the team has been doing well and we are opting to stick with him," Mpitsang said. With Quinton de Kock retired from Test cricket, Kyle Verreynne is the designated wicketkeeper.
But all eyes will be on Harmer, who returned to South Africa's domestic set-up on the back of stellar county form. Since his last Test, across the County Championship and Bob Willis Trophy, Harmer has taken 303 wickets in 61 matches, more than any other bowler in that six-year period. He was also the leading wicket-taker in the the County Championship in 2019 and in the Bob Willis Trophy in 2020. This season, Harmer is the second-leading bowler in the domestic four-day competition, after Olivier, and has taken 27 wickets at 21.40.
He is the third former Kolpak player to be recalled since the system ended post-Brexit on January 31, 2020. Wayne Parnell has been selected for ODIs and played against Netherlands in a washout in November last year while Olivier made his comeback during the Test series against India, suggesting CSA will now fully re-integrate Kolpak players into the fold. It's a complete turnaround from the mood in April 2020, when Harmer said: "There's a lot of bad blood towards the Kolpaks, and it would take, I think, South Africans and perhaps Cricket South Africa to swallow their pride and seek for those players to return to the South African set-up. There's been a lot said in the press about the return of Kolpak players, but obviously the public perception still is not great."
Now, Harmer faces fresh public scrutiny as he returns to the country where transformation targets, which he has been critical of in the past, are a reality and have a direct impact on selection. In 2019, Harmer said the quota system worked against players of colour, whom he believed were not always ready to make the step up, and white players, who were denied an income-earning opportunity. "It's affecting players of colour because they're forced into a role and they're not allowed to develop their skill. They get thrust in and then thrust out, and then they find the next person to come in," he said at the time. "If I were to lose my place for a player of colour then I don't have an issue with that. But as a sportsman, I need to maximise my earning potential, and to commit in South Africa where the transformation targets are constantly evolving … your opportunities do get less and less. It's the nature of South African sport. It's always going to be there, it's never going to go away. It's such a sore topic and taboo to speak about, but it is what it is."
Harmer sought to make a career in England and hoped to qualify for their international side, but with the Kolpak system ending his qualification hopes and with other visa options unavailable to him, he closed the door on that last August. He remains contracted as an overseas player to Essex until the end of the 2026 season, though his availability for the county could become dependent on his international career.
Whether Harmer will make an immediate comeback into the playing XI is likely to depend on conditions. Both Tests will be played at the Hagley Oval in Christchurch, which over recent years has boasted the quickest pitch in New Zealand that is usually green and bouncy. This is a change from the original schedule that had the first Test in Christchurch and the second in Wellington but, with New Zealand under strict Covid-19 restrictions, travel has been minimised by staying in one venue.
South Africa depart for New Zealand on February 2 and will undergo 10 days of mandatory quarantine before being allowed to train.
South Africa squad for New Zealand tour: Dean Elgar (capt), Temba Bavuma, Sarel Erwee, Simon Harmer, Marco Jansen, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Wiaan Mulder, Lungi Ngidi, Duanne Olivier, Keegan Petersen, Kagiso Rabada, Ryan Rickelton, Lutho Sipamla, Glenton Stuurman, Rassie van der Dussen, Kyle Verreynne

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent