In the absence of experience lost to the IPL, and on what is likely to be a turning deck at Kingsmead, the Proteas can ill-afford to look beyond Simon Harmer for their series opener against Bangladesh, writes RYAN VREDE.
The Proteas go into the first Test against Bangladesh on Thursday shorn of their entire first-choice attack, bar Keshav Maharaj.
It’s telling that their two most experienced fast bowlers, Duanne Olivier and Lutho Sipamla, have played just 16 Tests between them.
After the ODI series defeat by the tourists, the Proteas are under pressure to redeem themselves, which compounds the absence of Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Marco Jansen. Add the injured Anrich Nortje to that list and you understand the depth of the challenge.
Given the experience they’ve lost to the IPL, as well as Kingsmead’s history of being a slow turner, I’ve been surprised to see predicted lineups not include Harmer.
It appears the Proteas are placing a lot of faith in the Kingsmead curation team, which could negate Harmer’s potential impact.
Proteas skipper Dean Elgar told media that he was hoping for a green top, saying: “We want more grass on the pitch, and I think the preparation has been pretty good until now.
“I’m not too familiar with what they’ve done, but it seems like the grass has grown a little bit here at Kingsmead. Hopefully, they can get it nice and hard to create more pace and bounce. Hopefully, it’s a pitch that lasts five days.”
Elgar’s thoughts echo that of many Proteas skippers before him, but it is unlikely that the wicket will be as dramatic a departure from traditional Kingsmead decks as he hopes it will be.
Consider also that Bangladesh are likely to pick a combination that may include five left-handed batsmen, and potentially six, depending on whether they opt for an extra all-rounder.
In light of this, it would be perplexing to look beyond Harmer, who was the leading wicket-taker in the Domestic 4-Day Series and who brings with him experience and temperament for the big occasion.
Playing for Essex, he led the County Championship in wickets for three of his last four seasons. If there’s spin, Harmer will find it, and he combines that skill with patience, tactical intelligence and an appetite for a dog fight.
Playing two spinners in Test cricket at home is not the South African way. But these are not conventional times, and Kingsmead is certainly not a conventional South African wicket.
Some analysts suggest it would be brave to select two spinners. I think it is the rational selection path if you hope to extract the maximum threat out of what was a placid deck in the four-day series.
Of the three matches hosted at Kingsmead, two ended in high-scoring draws while, in the other, the Dolphins chased 258 to win and lost just two wickets in doing so.
Spinners didn’t feature prominently in any of these games, but neither the home team nor the visitors boasted a spinner of Harmer’s quality.
His tactical versatility – ie the ability to switch between holding and attacking – will be a massive asset to Elgar, who would be able to rotate an inexperienced core of speedsters. And the prospect of him bowling in tandem with Maharaj on a turning day three or four deck inspires confidence.
Speaking to Rapport earlier this year, Harmer said: “My mantra has always been, give me a show window. Give me a chance and I’ll show you I’m good enough, I’m a competitor, I’m a fighter, I do not give up.”
I think it is the perfect time for the ‘show window’ to be opened. Harmer is then the architect of his own fate. My instinct is he will take the opportunities given to him. The first of those must come in Durban.