South Africa’s tour of Bangladesh will hopefully provide some insight into who will fill the vacant opening spot in the Test team’s batting order, writes Kobus Pretorius.
Reeza Hendricks is one of four new players who were included in the Test squad for the Bangladesh tour, which was announced by Cricket South Africa on Wednesday.
Dane Vilas, Kagiso Rabada and Aaron Phangiso are the other fresh faces in the squad.
Breaking into the settled Test XI is a tough proposition for any player, but after Alviro Petersen retired from international cricket at the end of last season, a batting position at the top of the order alongside Dean Elgar has opened up.
It seems that the battle for that spot will be determined between Hendricks and Stiaan Van Zyl, even though both should get game-time in Bangladesh due to the absence of AB de Villiers, who is on paternity leave.
Van Zyl scored a hundred on debut against the West Indies last year when he filled in for the injured JP Duminy. He is regarded, however, as primarily an opening batsman and has batted at the top of the order for the Cape Cobras since he played his first Test.
Van Zyl should be at the top of the pecking order when replacements for Petersen are considered, but Hendricks, who has represented South Africa in T20 cricket previously, will want to stake his own claim for the position.
The selectors have three options in this regard:
1. They can give Van Zyl and Hendricks a chance to open the batting in each of the two Tests;
2. Hendricks can open the batting while Van Zyl covers for De Villiers at No 5;
3. Van Zyl opens the batting, with Temba Bavuma filling in for De Villiers in the middle order.
Van Zyl says he realises there is a possibility he may bat in the middle order again while De Villiers is absent.
‘I don’t know what the team is going to look like, but I really want to open the batting,’ he said.
‘The opening spot is the only one available at the moment, but I will give my best for the team wherever they decide to pick me. Looking at the future, it’s my dream to open the batting for South Africa and a massive honour to be selected.
‘Wherever I end up batting, I will continue to work towards becoming the first-choice opening batsman for the Proteas.’
Van Zyl realises the challenges playing in Bangladesh will provide and he is happy with his own fitness going into that tour, which starts in early July.
‘It will be a big tour for me. If I bat in the middle order I will probably face more spin bowling and possibly the second new ball. If I can I would like to attend the spin camp held by Nicky Bojé in Pretoria.’
The camp, where Bojé and HD Ackerman will work with the country’s spinners and batsmen, starts on 15 June and is also something that Hendricks will look to attend as preparation for Bangladesh.
The camp is invite only, but Hendricks said he will make a request to attend and doesn’t foresee a problem in that regard.
‘Being selected for the Test squad is something I have been working towards,’ said Hendricks.
‘With Alviro retiring it opened up an opportunity for a number of guys. Getting into the starting XI will be tough and I have already started hitting the gym and batting in the nets to improve on a few things.
‘Attending the spin camp would be great. Our biggest challenge will be to adapt to the conditions in Bangladesh very quickly.’
Hendricks admitted he was disappointed to miss out on selection for the T20 squad, but he has now shifted his focus to the longest format of the game.
‘Test cricket is the ultimate and hopefully I can use this tour to stake a claim for a place in the team.’