The three-match Test series should be a chance for the Proteas to have a look at the fringe players in the squad.
I’m all for selecting your best possible XI, but the side to take on New Zealand in the first Test will have six players over the age of 31. Most of these players won’t be around for too much longer, so now is the chance to test some of the fringe players to see if they have the appetite for international cricket.
There are five players waiting in the wings in New Zealand, namely Theunis de Bruyn, Duanne Olivier, Chris Morris, Wayne Parnell and Heinrich Klaasen. While Klaasen is only there to provide cover for 24-year-old Quinton de Kock, Olivier and De Bruyn have been identified as long-term options in the longest format. They’ve effectively come in for Kolpak pair Kyle Abbott and Rilee Rossouw.
Morne Morkel has been selected for the first Test, and I can completely understand this. Faf du Plessis mentioned that he’s been on top form in the nets for the past six months now. He’s also got a couple of One Day Cup games under his belt, and with 71 Tests and 242 wickets behind him, he’s hardly undercooked. Not to mention the fact that he boasts an average of 20.94 against New Zealand, with Du Plessis mentioning how his pace and bounce could be particularly troublesome to the left-handers on the New Zealand decks.
But if there’s ever a time to chop and change a bit, it should be in this series, with the Champions Trophy taking sterner priority at the moment. If Morkel struggles to find his rhythm in Dunedin, Olivier has to get another chance.
He was unbelievable in the Sunfoil Series, taking 52 wickets at 18.13, and followed that up with a brilliant debut for the Proteas, ending with match figures of 5-57. Du Plessis added in his press conference on Tuesday that Olivier has a huge role to play in this side, so surely now is the ideal time to get him familiar to the rigours of international cricket, with doubts surrounding the long-term availability of Dale Steyn, and even Morkel, who admitted his injury almost forced him to retire.
That’s not to say that the Proteas shouldn’t take this series seriously. There’s an opportunity to rise to No 2 in the rankings, and it’s also a chance to continue their immaculate record over New Zealand, which has seen them unbeaten since 2004. But chopping and changing with players who are on the form that Olivier and De Bruyn are on would not be disrespecting the Black Caps at all.
De Bruyn’ selection is obviously more complicated than Olivier’s, for middle-order spots are at a premium, and the balance of the transformation targets will be affected, as it’s arguably JP Duminy and Temba Bavuma who are under pressure to score runs.
It’s a healthy situation though. Having De Bruyn waiting in the wings means that Duminy and Bavuma have to raise the bar, especially Bavuma in this format. The selectors and backroom staff have done excellently to pick sides without compromising the quality of them, to the point that they’re actually ahead of the transformation targets. It allows room for De Bruyn’s selection should one of Duminy or Bavuma or struggle.
So I say test the available players out as soon as possible, for it they perform, not only will it strengthen the depth of the side, but it will allow younger players such as Olivier and De Bruyn to get more of a feel for the highest level, which only bodes well for the future.