Project Restart gets real as South Africa's seven newcomers take the stage

A host of new players can expect to be given their chances in the two Tests against Sri Lanka

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Kyle Verreynne at a team training session and press conference, Newlands Cricket Ground, Cape Town, South Africa, February 03, 2020

Kyle Verreynne has shown particular form in domestic cricket at the Wanderers  •  Getty Images

The times they are a-changin' in the South African Test team. Seven uncapped players were included in their initial squad to play Sri Lanka. And even if all the newcomers don't debut in this series - in particular, the luckless Keegan Petersen - they won't be far off their first caps as Project Restart gets properly underway, six or so years after it should have begun.
South Africa have spoken of themselves as being in transition since around 2014 when Graeme Smith retired. He is now the director of cricket, so things have moved on considerably, even though the rhetoric around rebuilding has not. Temporary Test captain Quinton de Kock said he wants to see "younger guys come through and learn fast" this summer so South Africa can start to find a structure to take them forward, even when de Kock is no longer leading them. These are the names and faces to keep an eye on as South Africa start their Test summer.
The most likely of the rookies to make an appearance, Glenton Stuurman is 28 and so shouldn't be considered a youngster. Rather, he is someone whose seasons in the domestic game have finally been recognised. He was the third-leading wicket-taker for South Western Districts (a team based in the town Oudtshoorn, best known for its ostrich farms) in the 2016-17 summer with the bulk of his haul coming on flat, dry surfaces; and he topped the tournament's wicket-takers' list in 2018-19. By then, the franchises had taken their heads out of the sand and Stuurman was contracted to the Warriors, in Port Elizabeth, where conditions are slightly, but not much more, seamer-friendly.
Through the move, Stuurman improved his conditioning, picked up a yard of pace and became a franchise regular, taking 18 first-class wickets for them in six matches last season and seven in two matches this summer. His ability to strike with the new ball and move the ball off the seam have seen him touted as a replacement for Vernon Philander, who retired in January. With Beuran Hendricks out of the series, Stuurman has the perfect opportunity to make the third seamer's role his own.
The same season that Stuurman came through, Pretorius did too. He was the top bowler in the three-day competition with 42 victims at 17.78. He was playing for Northerns, having come through Waterkloof High, the same institution as Pieter and Janneman Malan and Hardus Viljoen, but could not crack the Titans' team despite signs of good pace and allround ability. Instead, Pretorius moved to the Lions, where he was given some opportunity, but it's only this summer, at the Knights, under the guidance of coach Allan Donald, that he has managed a sustained run.
He lies third in the first-class bowling stats with 20 wickets at 20.65 which earned him a late call-up to the national squad, five days after the 15-man group was announced. Ostensibly, Pretorius was picked as cover but if South Africa opt to go all-pace, he may find himself in the XI. It will help his cause that he has scored two half-centuries at franchise level and could make a case to play as a lower-order allrounder.
Not an entirely new face, Sipamla has played 10 white-ball matches for South Africa but earned his first call-up to the Test squad when three additional players were added late last week. Sipamla has only played one first-class match this season, so the selectors may well be relying on last summer's form, where he was the leading seam bowler in the first-class competition with 24 wickets at 24.62.
At 22 years old, Sipamla may be a player South Africa are keeping around for the future, especially after the torrid time he endured in the only T20 he played against England, so we may not see him against Sri Lanka. That said, with the second Test being played at his new home ground, the Wanderers, he may yet find a way into the team.
Despite de Kock confirming that he will keep wicket in Test cricket, Kyle Verreynne's numbers make a strong case for him to be included as a specialist batsmen. He has averaged over 50 for four out of the last five seasons and his aggressive style of play adds middle-order impetus. In his three ODIs against Australia last summer, Verreynne's two fifties were shows of confidence, a trait South Africa's batsmen, especially their Test batsmen, have lacked.
It will help that some of Verreynne's recent runs have come at the one of this summer's Test venues. He scored twin half-centuries for the Cobras against the Lions at the Wanderers in early November, to add to the 65 he made there in 2018. Those are the only three first-class matches he has played at the Bullring. He has also appeared twice at Centurion, scoring 47 and 42.
It's only taken a decade but South Africa have finally found another "KP," and this one also plays his cricket at Kingsmead. Originally from Paarl, Keegan Petersen moved to the Knights, where he made a big impression in the 2018-19 season by topping the run-charts, and has since found a home at the Dolphins. He is currently eighth in this season's competition and is averaging over 50 for the third straight summer.
All indications are that Petersen is at the front of the queue of batsmen trying to get into the team, so it is hugely unfortunate that he was unable to enter the squad bubble ahead of the series. Last summer, Petersen was a non-playing member of the Test squad and received mentorship from Jacques Kallis, who was working for as a batting consultant for South Africa (and has since KP'd his way to doing the same job for England) and was thus considered next in line. He may have expected to get the first opportunity ahead of Verreynne, either at No.3, his usual position, or in the middle order.
Being in the position of reserve opening batsman is always tough, especially because these are spots that don't change often, and that lot has fallen to Sarel Erwee. Convener of selectors Victor Mpitsang told ESPNcricinfo that Erwee is regarded as back-up to Aiden Markram and Dean Elgar and has not usurped Markram in top spot, which is understandable considering Markram's form and the fact that he may be the next captain. It's still harsh on Erwee who is fourth on the run-scorers' list this season and has a dozen years of experience as a professional cricketer.
Erwee is a clean striker of the ball and made headlines for his white-ball hitting which could see him deployed out of position to do some damage down the order. If that is the case, he would be in competition with Verreynne for a place.
It was impossible to ignore the leading run-scorer in the four-day competition, who also topped the list last summer, and so Raynard van Tonder was added in the squad, alongside Sipamla and Dwaine Pretorius as a late inclusion. At 22 years old and oozing talent, he is the kind of player who should be fast-tracked into international cricket, but the trouble could be where to put him. Like Petersen, he is a top-three player and could only find himself there if both van der Dussen and du Plessis bat lower down the order. The same argument that applies to the other batsmen mentioned here, that they could bat lower down, could also apply to van Tonder.
What seems certain is that he will play for South Africa, and perhaps even put himself forward as a future leader. He captained the under-19 team at the 2018 World Cup.
Strictly speaking, Mulder should not be on this list because he has already played a Test - and it was against Sri Lanka - but he's included because he is making a comeback after a long injury lay-off that caused him to miss all of last summer's internationals. Mulder was identified in the Ottis Gibson era as the allrounder South Africa have been looking for since Jacques Kallis, and he may get the chance to show if that is the case in this series.
Mulder has had a decent run for the Lions in first-class cricket this summer, with a hundred and a half-century and averages 43.83 and has bowled 82 overs with returns of 6 for 267. If Mulder can slot into the No.7 spot, with Dwaine Pretorius also competing for that berth, it may allow Quinton de Kock to bat higher (and hopefully have more time at the crease) and gives South Africa the luxury of being able to include an extra bowler. Finding the right balance has long been an issue for South Africa and though it is a lot to expect of Mulder, he could prove to be a big part of the solution.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent