AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn have given Proteas coach Ottis Gibson selection dilemmas ahead of the day-night Test against Zimbabwe, starting in Port Elizabeth on Boxing Day.
The inclusion of De Villiers, back from a self-imposed sabbatical, poses some questions as to the batting lineup; whether to put in seven specialist batsmen, or drop one to accommodate four seamers. And to that end, Gibson will have to make a call on Steyn’s fitness after a year away nursing a shoulder injury.
While the main focus will be on Steyn, Gibson also has to watch Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander and Chris Morris, all of whom are returning from injury. Already, Duanne Olivier has been added to the squad to cover for Morris.
Immediately after the four-day Test against Zimbabwe, the Proteas begin a gruelling schedule which includes three Tests, six ODIs and three T20s against India, and four Tests against Australia. Gibson needs all his resources to be fit and firing.
‘It’s going to be an interesting selection, but if we get right, and you look at the strength of the team we can put on the park, that’s a pleasing thing,’ said Gibson in an interview with ESPNCricinfo. ‘It’s good to have all those guys back. Getting the right blend is going to be a challenge but it’s one we’re all looking forward to.’
Steyn played his first game in whites in the warm-up match against Zimbabwe at Paarl, when he bowled 12 overs in three spells. Gibson will want to see more in the nets as they prepare for Zimbabwe.
‘When you’ve had such a long layoff and a significant injury, you just have to wait and see how you pull up. We’ll see how he goes going into this summer,’ Gibson said.
‘He has been a champion bowler for a long time, probably along with James Anderson, probably the best of the modern generation in terms of wickets taken, games played and the way he has led the South African attack for a number of years,’ Gibson said.
Gibson also needs to use the Zimbabwe match to get the team to gel as a unit, not as a chance to experiment.
‘Against Bangladesh, we started to try and talk in a particular way around the dressing room and we tried to be very positive in the way we went about Test cricket.
‘Hopefully we will continue that in this game and then leading into the India series. India are the No 1 team in the world at the moment, and we know we need to be at our best if we are going to compete with them and beat them, which is our ultimate goal. We just want to continue the progression that we started in the Bangladesh series.’
Proteas Test squad: Faf du Plessis (Titans, capt), Hashim Amla (Cape Cobras), Temba Bavuma (Cape Cobras), Quinton de Kock (Titans), Theunis de Bruyn (Knights), AB de Villiers (Titans), Dean Elgar (Titans), Keshav Maharaj (Dolphins), Aiden Markram (Titans), Morne Morkel (Titans), Andile Phehlukwayo (Dolphins), Vernon Philander (Cape Cobras), Kagiso Rabada (Highveld Lions), Dale Steyn (Titans).
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