• Faf’s ban a blessing in disguise

    Faf du Plessis’ one-match Test ban has angered fans nationwide, but there are positives that can come of this, writes SIMON LEWIS.

    The Proteas skipper bounced back from something of a horror year with the bat (statistically speaking), following his pair at Centurion by reeling off a masterful century at Newlands to set up a South African victory as the Pakistan batsmen failed to cope with the Proteas pace.

    READ ALSO: Faf with 2018’s second-lowest Test captain’s average

    Having to sit out the Wanderers Test might seem like a tragedy right at the time when the skipper has hit red ball form, but there is a bright side to his enforced absence. It has opened up a place for Zubayr Hamza to potentially make his Test debut, which is a terrific opportunity for the 23-year-old, who averages 49.29 with the bat in first-class cricket and scores a half-century or higher every three times at bat.

    Hamza’s likely inclusion in the Test side should in no ways be viewed as a soft selection, just because the series is won. He has earned his place by virtue of his run-scoring in the 4-Day Franchise Series and his overall class as a batsman, but the problem for so many batsmen in local cricket is that opportunities to step up to international cricket appear as rare as a four-legged duck.

    Du Plessis’ absence is great in this regard. The skipper is not worried about his place in the side, and although he has just ‘found form’, he is a proven international batsman, and as they say, form is temporary, class is permanent.

    The rest of the Proteas batsmen need game time to boost their confidence and settle themselves, but Faf doesn’t. His century at Newlands was a reminder for himself (and his fans) that the talent is still there, so having a break for a few days won’t hurt him at all.

    READ ALSO: Masterful Faf’s maiden Newlands Test ton a cracker

    When batsmen are scoring runs in local cricket but are not getting a chance to prove themselves at a higher level, it can cause frustration among players. South Africa’s top franchise batsmen need to know that they have a chance to step into the big spotlight, that the doors are not shut.

    We saw with the MSL how the franchise players rose to the challenge and proved themselves on the bigger stage, and this has brought renewed confidence in South African domestic white-ball cricket. Hamza’s chance to play could give South African red-ball cricket a similar boost.

    This does potentially place a lot of responsibility on Hamza’s shoulders, but such is the life of a professional cricketer. If Hamza gets runs, it will give credence to the depth of South Africa’s talent and the level of our domestic cricket. It will also instantly offer evidence that the top players on the local circuit have what it takes to step up to the plate. This will create a ripple effect of confidence around South Africa, while at the same time also reminding the incumbent Proteas batsmen to look behind them at the chasing pack.

    The men in possession will have to up their game to justify keeping their places in the side, and that can only be good to raise their performance levels. The inclusion of new blood also brings new energy to the change room, which can help to raise the performance levels of all the team members.

    READ ALSO: Faf suspended for final Test

    The one tricky question is what to do if Hamza scores big runs should he play at the Wanderers? Personally, as was the case with Duanne Olivier, if a player comes into the side and does well, I don’t see how you can possibly leave him out. Only if you are the No 1 side in the world and all your players are firing could you justify a yo-yo selection when a player performs on debut or on a recall.

    Thankfully, the selectors kept faith with Duanne Olivier after his 11-wicket haul at Centurion, and he rewarded them with some more fantastic bowling at Newlands.

    For the selectors to rest Du Plessis and give Hamza a run would have been viewed as a mixture of foolhardiness and a massive gamble in many respects. However, with the decision taken out of their hands, it is something that could work out well for South African cricket.

    Perhaps, after all, we should give thanks to the ICC for banning our skipper!

    Leading 4-Day Franchise Series run-scorers (as at 8 January 2018)

    Player Inns Runs HS Ave 100 50
    KD Petersen (Knights) 14 765 165* 63.75 3 2
    EM Moore (Warriors) 13 724 151 60.33 2 4
    PJ van Biljon (Knights) 14 712 177* 59.33 3 4
    PJ Malan (Cape Cobras) 12 629 153 52.41 3 3
    JN Malan (Cape Cobras) 12 564 168 51.27 2 2
    SC Cook (Lions) 13 559 188 43 3 1
    HE van der Dussen (Lions) 9 496 175 55.11 1 3
    GL Cloete (Warriors) 11 490 108 44.54 1 4

    Source: Cricinfo

    Photo: Shaun Roy/Gallo Images

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    Simon Lewis