The biggest debate involving Proteas selectors, coach and captain Hashim Amla will be about the new skipper himself. Namely, where to slot him in the top-order and how to ensure there’s a strong batting backbone that stretches down to No 8, where Vernon Philander is developing into a genuine all-rounder.
Amla himself has said that the option needs to be explored of him moving from No 3 – where he has scored 20 of his 21 Test centuries – to No 4, where he got exactly 100 against England at Centurion in 2009, although he did bat in that position in South Africa’s last Test, getting 38 and 41 against Australia at Newlands in March.
The obvious problem the brains trust face is trying to plug the huge holes left by the retirements of opener Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis, who accumulated 22 500 Test runs between them. By appointing Amla as the new captain, they were able to skirt around the issue of what to do behind the wicket if AB de Villiers had to give up the wicketkeeper’s role. Now, though, they need to address what to do with Amla.
As captain, and a relative greenhorn in that role – despite an international career that has seen him capped 187 times across all formats for his country – he needs to be given time to ‘bed in and assert his personality’, while as a batsman he is going to be required to get more big hundreds. We all know he is capable of those, and he has five Test innings over 150, three of them not out, including that record 311 against England in 2012.
It’s probably worth having a look at the Test squad announced following Amla’s elevation and then allowing the amateur selectors among us to speculate as to what this new era Proteas Test XI could look like.
The selectors have thrown the Cape Cobras left-handed run-getter Stiaan van Zyl into the Test mix for the tour of Sri Lanka, and having done so they have recognised his form in the Sunfoil Series, where he hit 933 runs at 58.31 to top the domestic averages. You have to think that he will be given the opportunity on the subcontinent. Either he or Dean Elgar slotting in as opener alongside Alviro Petersen will still provide the left-right opening combination that applied with Smith.
Quinton de Kock is also a left-handed batsman, capped against Australia, who has been chosen in the 15 but for this tour I’d prefer to see him as part of the broader Proteas Test set-up and it’s hard to see both him and De Villiers in the same starting XI if De Villiers continues to keep wicket.
Amla can therefore be dropped down to No 4, with the outrageously talented De Villiers at No 5, Faf du Plessis given the chance to steady the ship if required at No 6, and then JP Duminy to come in at No 7 and bat with the tail that includes the ever-improving Philander at No 8.
So, this is what a Test XI against Sri Lanka could look like: Alviro Petersen, Stiaan van Zyl, Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Imran Tahir.
Having said that there will be robust debate and Wayne Parnell, as a left-handed quickie, and Dane Piedt as a rival for Tahir will have plenty of supporters when it comes to deciding on the bowling unit.