SA Cricket magazine editor Ryan Vrede consider the five most pressing questions the Proteas need to answer during the Test summer.
The Proteas will contest two-Test series against Sri Lanka, followed by a two-Test series in Pakistan, whereafter they will return home to face Australia in a three-Test series. The Australia series is yet to be confirmed, although Cricket Australia did, on Sunday, confirm their commitment to honour the tour, should they be satisfied that the requisite health and safety COVID-19 protocols will be in place.
This brings us to the first and biggest question…
CAN CRICKET SOUTH AFRICA BUILD AN EFFECTIVE SECURE BIO-BUBBLE?
The England tour was a mess in this regard, and while CSA can’t be held entirely responsible for the breaches of the bio-secure bubble (England players left to play golf in an unsecured environment no less than eight times), they have the cricket world’s eyes trained on them.
Australia are likely to make a decision to tour SA or not based on how well or badly the Sri Lanka tour goes from a health and safety perspective.
With no indication when a vaccine will be available to South Africans, this Sri Lanka series could determine the future of incoming tours. Get it right and it will ease the minds of future tourists. Get it wrong and it will undoubtedly mean no incoming tours for the foreseeable future.
The financial implications of that will cripple an already cash-strapped game in SA.
CAN AIDEN MARKRAM REALISE HIS IMMENSE POTENTIAL?
Aiden Markram comes into the series off the back of excellent domestic form. He scored three centuries in a row, before getting 75 in his last innings.
The Proteas’ selectors picked him ahead of Pieter Malan, who came into the side for the England Test series following Markram’s injury-enforced withdrawal after the first Test in December 2019. He is highly rated but there is a sense that this may be his last crack at the job.
Markram hasn’t scored a Test century since March 2018 and prior to his injury he was under immense pressure for his place. He averages a touch over 18 in his last 10 innings, which is simply not good enough for a Test opener, especially one as gifted as Markram.
It will now be seen if he has remedied some of the technical issues that have haunted him. More importantly, his temperament under pressure will be revealed in this his second coming. Talent means nothing without the requisite temperament for Test cricket.
Markram will have to show that he has both.
WHAT TO DO WITH QUINTON DE KOCK?
I was devastated when I heard De Kock was appointed Test skipper. I didn’t even want him to continue as the white-ball leader.
I’ve argued that our most naturally gifted batsman needs to be freed of the burden of leadership and entrusted with the responsibility of batting at No 4, where he should be given a mandate to take games away from the opposition in a session.
And while he is only in the Test captain role temporarily, it remains to be seen how he is deployed this summer. I suspect, given the relative inexperience of the batting line-up, the selectors will want the insurance of him at No 6 or 7.
I’d bat him at No 4 and give Kyle Verreynne the gloves. That would require dropping either Rassie van der Dussen or Temba Bavuma. I don’t think that’s going to happen for a myriad reasons.
That doesn’t change the fact that I think our most X-factor laden batsman shouldn’t be asked to lead, keep and carry the weight of responsibility of being a senior batter.
WHO WILL FILL THE HOLE VERNON PHILANDER LEAVES?
Philander retired in January, leaving a massive void in the Proteas’ line-up.
He averaged 22 with the ball and 24 with the bat. Players like that are incredibly hard to come by in Test cricket, and the Proteas will hope that either Dwaine Pretorius or Wiaan Mulder emerges as a competent replacement for him.
I’d back Mulder. He is 22, bowls at good pace and is a high-quality batsman. There may be a settling in period, but his potential is massive and he is worth the investment.
WHO WILL TAKE THE THIRD SEAMER SPOT?
Kagiso Rabada is injured but will come straight back into the team when he recovers. Anrich Nortje has entrenched himself in the side and either Dwaine Pretorius or Wiaan Mulder will fill the all-rounder spot.
That leaves a seamer slot available for one of a clutch of players to fill. Beuran Hendricks, Glenton Stuurman, Migael Pretorius and Lutho Sipamla will contest this spot.
Whoever gets first crack at this has the inside lane to establish themselves in the side for the summer and beyond.
Quinton de Kock (captain, Titans), Temba Bavuma (Lions), Aiden Markram (Titans), Faf du Plessis (Titans), Beuran Hendricks (Lions), Dean Elgar (Titans), Keshav Maharaj (Dolphins), Lungi Ngidi (Titans), Rassie van der Dussen (Lions), Sarel Erwee (Dolphins), Anrich Nortje (Warriors), Glenton Stuurman (Warriors), Wiaan Mulder (Lions), Keegan Petersen (Dolphins), Kyle Verreynne (Cape Cobras), Migael Pretorius (Knights), Dwaine Pretorius (Lions), Lutho Sipamla (Lions), Raynard van Tonder (Knights).