'Temba and I are a good fit' - Conrad explains why Bavuma replaced Elgar as Test captain
Heinrich Klaasen over Kyle Verreynne as wicketkeeper, and Gerald Coetzee over Lungi Ngidi in the pace attack, new Test coach confirms
Shukri Conrad, South Africa's new Test coach, has revealed that he took the call to replace Dean Elgar with Temba Bavuma as Test captain.
Conrad, who was appointed last month and will start in his new position from the two-Test series against West Indies at home, which starts on February 28, said he had chosen Bavuma because of the strength of their relationship and not because Elgar had underperformed in the role.
"This was my decision. I felt Temba and I were a good fit, and Dean's still going to play a huge part in our leadership group," Conrad said at a press interaction following the announcement of the squad to play West Indies. "Dean's done an exceptional job over the last couple of years, and in my conversation with him, that's something I made clear. This doesn't make Dean a poor captain and Temba a good captain. But I felt this was the right fit for me and for us going forward."
Though Conrad has never coached a domestic team that Bavuma was a part of, he was the Lions coach when Bavuma would have been at school in Johannesburg, and came across at the national academy. Conrad was also the interim white-ball coach when Bavuma led South Africa to a series win over England last month, and scored a century that led to him earning an SA20 deal.
"We've come a long way, Temba and I. He knows how I want to do things, and I've got a good understanding of how he wants to be involved and run things," Conrad said. "Our couple of days in Bloemfontein and Kimberley have gone a long way in consolidating the fact that Temba was going to be the captain. Hopefully his performances will keep shining. He's been a star performer for the Test side. I think captaincy sits well with him."
Aiden Markram in line to open with Dean Elgar
Elgar remained available for national selection and was going be reunited with former opening partner Aiden Markram, who Conrad confirmed would open the batting against West Indies after being dropped for the Australia series.
Markram, who has an average of 24.60 in his last 23 Tests, was preferred over Sarel Erwee, and Conrad indicated he would get a long run in the Test team. "People are always going to be behind Aiden Markram or they are going to say he flatters to deceive. I'm in the former group. Aiden's going to open the batting," Conrad said. "He's a wonderful cricketer and a stroke-player. Aiden and I go back a long way, so I know his character. We've got to match characters to that to our selections and the type of cricket we want to play. I say emphatically that he will open the batting with Dean."
"Verreynne has done everything that can be expected. But I think Klaasen has done more and deserves a full crack"Shukri Conrad
That means Tony de Zorzi would have to wait his turn despite being the leading run-scorer in first-class cricket this season so far. South Africa are still going to field a significantly different batting line-up to their previous one. Conrad said he would opt for seven batters and four bowlers, as opposed to the six-five combination South Africa were using, which left them looking a batter light routinely. Secondly, Rassie van der Dussen and Kyle Verreynne have both been dropped, the latter despite finishing as the second-highest run-scorer in the Australia series. Conrad made it clear that he considered Heinrich Klaasen, now the wicketkeeper, more deserving than Verreynne at the moment.
"Kyle's omission was tough but ultimately I get paid to make certain calls and subjectivity plays a part. This was my conversation with Kyle. He's done everything that can be expected. But I think Klaasie has done more and deserves a full crack," Conrad said. "Klaasie is, in my opinion, not just a batter that we can stick in the field. He's been battling with an elbow because he's been forced to be in the field a lot of the time. I've always viewed him as a wicketkeeper-batter, so for me it was a straight shootout as to who I wanted. And that's Klaasie. That's unfortunate for someone like Kyle. The door is certainly not closed to him."
'It's purely Gerald Coetzee ahead of Lungi Ngidi now
Similarly, tough calls were made in the bowling department, where Lungi Ngidi was left out in favour of Gerald Coetzee. Conrad confirmed Coetzee was likely to debut and that South Africa would go all-pace for the first Test at SuperSport Park. "It's quite simple for me. I think Gerald Coetzee needs a good run. We all know the promise that Gerald holds, and now's as good a time as ever to unleash him," Conrad said. "Without giving too much away, I'd like to think that I'd be in a position to play all our quick bowlers in Centurion. Depending on what the Wanderers throws up, that XI might change. It's purely Gerald ahead of Lungi right now."
Still, South Africa have included three spinners in the squad in Keshav Maharaj, Simon Harmer and Senuran Muthusamy, who played two Tests on the India tour in 2019. Conrad explained that Muthusamy, in particular, had been picked as an allrounder. "I want to increase our allrounder stocks. Allrounders don't only have to be seam bowlers, they can also be guys who bowl spin," Conrad said. "In Wiaan (Mulder) and Sen we get that balance. If I want to play four quicks because I think the pitch is going to be a certain way, it gives me the option to play Sen. We need to be quite fluid."
Conrad's frank comments on selection came against the backdrop of South Africa dispensing with the previous selection panel, which consisted of convener Victor Mpitsang and Patrick Moroney. For now, the head coach - Conrad and white-ball coach Rob Walter - are going to fill that role until CSA come up with a more permanent set-up.
"I've always believed the coach should have more of a say in selection and a better understanding of what is required, as long as it's in line with CSA's bigger strategy," Enoch Nkwe, CSA's director of cricket, said. "It is going to be an interim phase, something we want to trial. But I believe the two coaches are the best-positioned people to talk about selection. I have a lot of trust in our two coaches that we are going in the right direction. Shukri and Rob are going to be leading the selection structure with the respective captains."
Bavuma has been given charge of the Test and ODI sides, and Markram, who led Sunrisers Eastern Cape to the inaugural SA20 title, and David Miller, who has captained the Paarl Royals, are the frontrunners to lead the T20I team.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent for South Africa and women's cricket