Duanne Olivier returns as South Africa name 21-member squad for India Tests
Glenton Stuurman and Prenelan Subrayen are back in the mix too, while Sisanda Magala and Ryan Rickelton have earned maiden call-ups
Duanne Olivier could make a Test comeback after an absence of almost three years after being named in a 21-player squad for the upcoming three-Test series against India. The squad includes two new faces - seamer Sisanda Magala and top-order batter Ryan Rickelton, who were both part of the ODI line-up that played in the series against Netherlands, which had to be postponed because of the latest Covid-19 outbreak - and recalls for offspin-bowling allrounder Prenelan Subrayen and quick bowler Glenton Stuurman, who have been part of previous Test squads but haven't been capped.
The rest of the group is largely the same as the one that toured West Indies in June, which is when South Africa last played Test cricket. That series, which South Africa won 2-0, was Dean Elgar's first as the regular captain. The upcoming one against India will be his first in charge at home. His vice-captain, Temba Bavuma, who was on tour in the Caribbean but missed the Tests because of injury, is also in the squad.
South Africa have given themselves several options in all departments, especially in the bowling attack. Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje are expected to lead the pack, with Lungi Ngidi included after recovering from Covid-19, two left-armers in Marco Jansen and Beuran Hendricks, and two right-arm options in Stuurman and Magala.
A lot of the focus, though, will be on Olivier, who has been in exceptional form for the Lions and leads the first-class wickets chart this season with 28 strikes at 11.14, including two five-wicket hauls.
Olivier spoke to ESPNcricinfo after the last round of fixtures and confirmed that he had been in discussion with selection convener Victor Mpitsang and was available for South Africa again after his Kolpak-enforced absence. He is the second Kolpak-returnee to be selected for a national squad after Wayne Parnell, who played against Netherlands.
Conditions, on the whole, are expected to favour quicks, especially at SuperSport Park and Wanderers, where the first two Tests are scheduled to be played, but Newlands could offer something for spinners and South Africa have three of them too. Keshav Maharaj remains the first pick, and will have back-up in allrounders George Linde and Subrayen. Tabraiz Shamsi, who was part of the Test squad in West Indies, has not been selected while there was also no room for the second-highest wicket-taker - behind Olivier - in the first-class competition, Simon Harmer. But South Africa have included one seam-bowling allrounder in Wiaan Mulder.
The batting line-up has a more familiar look to it, with Sarel Erwee providing back-up to Elgar and Aiden Markram at the top of the order, and Rassie van der Dussen, Bavuma, Kyle Verreynne and de Kock expected to make up the top six.
Rickelton, the other back-up batter who is in tenth place on the first-class run chart, has been preferred over Tony de Zorzi and Pieter Malan, who are leading run-scorers in the ongoing series between South Africa A and India A.
This is South Africa's first series in the 2021-2023 cycle of the World Test Championship, and first series at home since they hosted Sri Lanka over the festive period last summer. They finished fifth in the previous edition of the ICC tournament, winning two series - against Sri Lanka and West Indies - and losing three - to England, India and Pakistan. It also marks the start of a busy summer for South Africa in which they host India, travel to New Zealand, and host Bangladesh, before a winter tour in England, and it was all very nearly derailed after the discovery of Omicron, the new Covid-19 variant last month.
The series has been pushed out by a week - it was initially scheduled to be played from December 17, and the first Test will now start on Boxing Day. The players will be in a biosecure bubble for the duration of the series, although they can expect to see some fans. As things stand in South Africa, 2,000 fully-vaccinated fans are permitted at sporting venues but this may change if further restrictions come into place in the next few weeks.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent