South Africa's IPL-contracted players were "put in a bit of a situation" when asked to choose between staying to play in the two-Test series against Bangladesh or going to the T20 tournament, according to Test captain Dean Elgar
. All the players who would have been part of the Test squad - including the full, frontline pace attack - opted to join up with the IPL franchises
and leave South Africa's selectors to pick their "next best", and despite earlier calling it a test of loyalty
, Elgar has reached a place of understanding.
"I'm comfortable where I sit with the players who aren't here," Elgar said, three days before the first Test starts in Durban. "I've had some really good, in-detail chats with those players just to find out where they are mentally. I'm very comfortable with the answers that they've given me."
Although Elgar could not reveal the full extent of those conversations, he implied that the players were left with a difficult choice after CSA opted not to retain their right to instruct the players to prioritise national duty. According to CSA's memorandum of understanding with the South African Cricketers' Association, which governs the players' terms of employment, the board makes provision to release players for a seven-week window to the IPL (no other league is given this privilege) but can insist the players fulfil international commitments if needed. CSA, due to the importance of its relationship with the BCCI and the amounts of money involved for players, opted not to do that and gave the players the choice. All of them decided to go to the IPL.
"I'm pretty confined with regards to what I can and can't say but the players were put in a bit of a situation with regards to making themselves available," Elgar said. "I'm sure they wouldn't have made a rash decision if it didn't mean a hell of a lot to them. I've had conversations with players and I know where they stand with regards to the Test side and playing Test cricket," Elgar said. "I think they were put in a situation that was unavoidable, bearing in mind that quite a few of the guys have never had IPL experience before. I don't think they wanted to hurt their opportunity going forward in the competition."
Where that's left Elgar is without "a few Test caps". Actually, it's without 128. Kagiso Rabada (52 matches), Lungi Ngidi (13), Marco Jansen (5), Anrich Nortje (12 - though he is not yet fit to play), Aiden Markram (31) and Rassie van der Dussen (15) are all unavailable for the Tests. South Africa could field as many as four debutants - Ryan Rickleton, Khaya Zondo, Lizaad Williams and Daryn Dupavillon - and a severely inexperienced pace attack. Between them, near-certain starters Lutho Sipamla and Duanne Olivier have only played 16 Tests and they will be accompanied by one of Glenton Stuurman, Williams or Dupavillon, while Zondo or Rickleton will fill in at No.4. Elgar is hopeful some of them will take the opportunity to make a big statement.
"We have to make do with our next best that we have in the country, who I'm still very confident in," he said. "Yes, we've lost a few Test caps along the way not having the IPL players with us, but it's a great opportunity for those guys to stand up and put those other players under pressure. I'm confident they can do that."
South Africa's first challenge is to shake off their habit of starting series slowly after they lost the first Tests against both India and New Zealand this summer. Though South Africa came back to beat India 2-1 and draw 1-1 in New Zealand, they made harder work of things than they may have needed to and Elgar wants them to get on the front foot immediately in this series.
"We need to find a way not to start poorly, because that really sets us back," he said. "As we saw in New Zealand, when you're 1-0 down you've really got to focus and put a lot of energy into trying to ensure the result goes your way. If we start well we're going to win more series, because it seems we play more competitive Test cricket as the series goes on."
"What happened in the ODI series has hurt quite a lot of players. I wasn't involved but I'm pretty hurt about the result. I'd like to think that's fuelled us. Our hunger is going to be right up there."
South Africa lost the ODI series 2-1
to Bangladesh and dropped important World Cup Super League points along the way. While neither head coach Mark Boucher nor white-ball captain Temba Bavuma could put their fingers on exactly why South Africa lacked intensity in the 50-overs contests, both indicated there were issues with self-belief
and a hint of taking things for granted. Elgar wants that mindset shelved before the Tests.
"What happened in the ODI series has hurt quite a lot of players. I wasn't involved but I'm pretty hurt about the result. I'd like to think that's fuelled us," he said. "Our hunger is going to be right up there. We know this Bangladesh side is not one of old. They're a new team with a westernised coaching staff who have changed their mindset with regards to how to play cricket in South Africa."
Not just a "westernised," coaching staff, a South African one. Russell Domingo, South Africa's former coach, has been at the helm of Bangladesh's recent achievements including ODI wins over Australia and New Zealand and a Test win in New Zealand, and he has Allan Donald as his bowling coach
"We want more grass on the pitch, and I think the preparation has been pretty good until now," Elgar said. "I'm not too familiar with what they've done, but it seems like grass has grown a little bit here at Kingsmead. Hopefully they can get it nice and hard to create more pace and bounce. Hopefully it's a pitch that lasts five days.
"The nature of Kingsmead of late has been lower and slower with more for the spin bowlers, but it seems like they've put a lot of effort into this pitch. It seems like they want the game to go five days. It's been a while since Kingsmead has had a Test match, so it would be great to see it go five days. Even though we're playing in conditions that are lower and slower, we can adapt."
South Africa have not played a Test in Durban since 2019, when they lost to Sri Lanka.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent