Despite picking an unchanged squad for the final two Tests, convener of selectors Linda Zondi says Stephen Cook remains part of their plans.
However, they want to give Stiaan van Zyl a fair chance to prove himself.
Cricket South Africa (CSA) announced an unchanged squad for the Tests at the Wanderers and Centurion, much to the dismay of cricket supporters who want to see Cook get a chance at the top of the order.
Zondi told SACricketmag.com it wasn’t an easy decision to keep the squad unchanged.
‘Stephen Cook is very close in our thinking, but we want to give Stiaan a run and back him, especially at the Wanderers. South Africa have only batted three innings in the series so far,’ hinting that the India tour isn’t really a factor, because all the batsmen struggled there.
Cook (33) has been one of the standout batsmen in domestic cricket over the last year or so and seems an obvious choice at the top of the order, but he’ll have to wait his turn, just like Van Zyl did before he first got picked.
‘It’s a very nice problem to have,’ Zondi said. ‘It shows our franchise cricket is strong.’
He did not, however, discount the possibility that a player from outside the squad could be called up for the final Test if the selectors deemed it necessary.
‘Absolutely. Announcing an unchanged squad doesn’t stop us from doing that and bringing someone in for Centurion, but it is very important to give stability to the team.
‘I understand the frustration that has been aired on social media. All the players we are looking at are part of the South African A squad so Cook is definitely in our plans. His age is not a concern. If a player is good enough his age doesn’t matter.’
Zondi said it was a concern that Hashim Amla is coming in too early on a regular basis. He also said there was a big gap between domestic and SA A cricket and SA A cricket and international cricket.
Zondi was asked to clarify who picks the starting XI for any particular match. It is well known that the selection panel selects the squad, but who has the final say on the team that plays?
‘The final XI is picked by the coach and the convener of selectors, which is me, but if I am not available then one of the other members of the panel will be involved. For example, Ashwell Prince was our representative for the New Year’s Test because he is based in Cape Town.
‘The captain’s input is always taken into consideration and 99% of the time they usually get the team they want, so we always speak to them to find out what their thoughts and needs are for a specific game.’
Zondi said while there is an established pecking order in place when new players are considered, there is flexibility within that order.
That is why, for example, Hardus Viljoen was called up to the squad for the second Test instead of Marchant de Lange, who was the back-up bowler for the India tour.
In terms of selection for the third Test, Zondi admitted there was a temptation to play four seamers, but that depended on the input of the new captain, AB de Villiers, and the track record of the Wanderers over the last few years.