Some interesting decisions could be made when South Africa ponder their third and final XI for the series against the West Indies, at Newlands, starting on Friday.
First and foremost will be the composition of the team, especially since Simon Harmer, the Warriors offspinner, was added to the squad. One up and only a draw needed to secure the series, the management could take the view that it is an opportune time to blood the 25-year-old at Test level, after 56 first-class matches. But Proteas captain Hashim Amla sounded a cautionary note, when acknowledging that the draw in Port Elizabeth had left the team less secure than they expected. Had they been two-up, he said, perhaps there would have been a more liberal view to experimenting.
It would take leap of faith to bring in Harmer, especially as they already have two debutants in Stiaan van Zyl and Temba Bavuma still finding their feet. Imran Tahir’s improved performance in the latter stages of the rain-hammered match in Port Elizabeth, when he took three for 16 (having conceded 92 off his first 21 overs) may have been enough to save him, but the selectors are extremely wary of the temperamental leg-spinner.
If we make the assumption that the batting line-up will not change, and that they will retain a spinner to exploit the predicted turn later in the game, then the decision (if granted by the toss of the coin) of when to bat comes into play.
Newlands does offer some encouragement to the seamers in the early stages, and the weather report indicates there may be some cloud cover and breeze to assist. Graeme Pollock, on this website, is eager to see Morne Morkel, particularly, in action as soon as possible. But in the last match at Newlands, back in March last year the Australians had no hesitation in opting to bat, and had 65 on the board after 13 overs before the first wicket fell. It was left to the spin of JP Duminy to chip away at them until they declared at 494 for seven.
That was a blight on an otherwise great record at Newlands, where the Proteas had reigned unbeaten for 31 Tests. And while some may say the West Indies are not in the class of the Australians, they showed in Port Elizabeth that the top order can tough it out. Still, it may be worth the risk, because their tail is loathe to get too involved. Dale Steyn, having been left without a peg at Port Elizabeth, will also been keen to get stuck in.
The West Indies have been buoyed by their all-round showing in the second Test and are unlikely to change much, if at all.