Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent
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Opening batsman Sarel Erwee, wicketkeeper-batsman Kyle Verreynne and medium-pacer Glenton Stuurman have received maiden call-ups to South Africa's Test squad for the two-Test series against Sri Lanka. South Africa will be captained by Quinton de Kock, who has been appointed in temporary capacity of the 2021-21 summer. However, they will be without frontline seamer Kagiso Rabada or allrounder Dwaine Pretorius, who are both injured.
Pretorius was ruled out of the recent white-ball series against England with a hamstring concern while Rabada picked up a groin strain during the T20Is. Though a CSA statement said the pair would both be assessed in the coming days to determine if they could be added to the squad, selection convener Victor Mpitsang was less hopeful.
"The concern is around workloads. For now, they (Rabada and Pretorius) are not available for the Sri Lanka tour but hopefully they will be ready for the Pakistan series," Victor Mptisang, convenor of selectors, told ESPNcricinfo.
Importantly, Mpitsang would like to see both players feature in domestic red-ball cricket before they join the Test squad. Pretorius is expected to play in a four-day match for the Lions starting on Monday, December 13, while Rabada should be fit for the fixture the week after, which starts on December 20. The South African squad will go into their bios-ecure bubble at the Irene Country Club on December 19, which means Rabada, especially, could be too late to join them for the festive Tests.
However, they will not look to add any reinforcements to their spin department, where Keshav Maharaj remains the first-choice. George Linde, who was the second-highest wicket-taker in last season's four-day competition, and Tabraiz Shamsi, who led the list before he was needed for international duty this summer, will have to wait for January's tour of Pakistan to get their chance. "Both of them are there and thereabouts but if you look at where we are playing this series, we will struggle to get two spinners into our team in Johannesburg and Centurion," Mpitsang said. "In our conditions, Keshav will do the job."
On the batting front, Mpitsang confirmed that Aiden Markram will return to the top of the order after missing most of last summer with a hand injury. Markram leads the domestic run-scorers' list, with three hundreds from his last three innings, and displaces Pieter Malan, who has not been included in the squad at all. Instead, Dolphins' opener Erwee, who is 47 runs behind Markram, has been included. "Pieter Malan is unlucky to have missed out because of what he had done against England but Aiden Markram missed out against England and we've seen the remarkable form he has been in. He just comes back in," Mpitsang said. "The replacement will be Sarel Erwee who has been very good in the past. It shows that when you do well in the domestic structure you will be rewarded."
Markram will also be closely watched as a potential permanent Test captain, a position that will be filled ahead of the 2021-22 season. "Aiden has always been a guy earmarked as a captain but we will reassess after the season," Mpitsang said. "There's a nice leadership group for now, with Rassie and Temba, and it's about getting them to be stable in the team."
Bavuma only played one Test last season after he was dropped and will need consistent performances to cement his spot. He will bat in the top five, which is bolstered by the experience of Faf du Plessis, who remains available for selection, despite stepping down as captain, and Rassie van der Dussen, with Keegan Petersen likely to be the reserve. Petersen, who is fourth on the domestic run-charts this season, has been preferred over Zubayr Hamza and Theunis de Bruyn. Verreyne, who is also a wicketkeeper is the other batting option, and could find himself making a debut either as a specialist batsman or to relieve de Kock of the gloves.
The series will be South Africa's first since the coronavirus pandemic hit and their third in the World Test Championship. They are placed eighth on the WTC table, with one win and 24 points and though their chances of qualifying for the final are slim, they have seven Tests this summer to work their way to a more respectable position. They will be wary though, knowing that the last time Sri Lanka were on their shores, in the 2018-19 season, they became the first team from the subcontinent to win a series in South Africa.
Squad for Sri Lanka Tests: Quinton de Kock (capt & wk), Temba Bavuma, Aiden Markram, Faf du Plessis, Beuran Hendricks, Dean Elgar, Keshav Maharaj, Lungi Ngidi, Rassie van der Dussen, Sarel Erwee, Anrich Nortje, Glenton Stuurman, Wiaan Mulder, Keegan Petersen, Kyle Verreynne