The Boxing Day Test between South Africa and Zimbabwe might have given India a glimpse of the kind of challenge awaits in their upcoming tour. South Africa were brutal with the ball and did well to register an innings victory inside two days of the inaugural four-day Test. Their bowlers were ruthless and showed no mercy whatsoever against Zimbabwe on a surface that had something for the bowlers.
This Test was more about the return of South Africa’s finest batsman AB de Villiers to the longest format. He smashed a fifty on his Test return and did well as a stand-in skipper in the absence of Faf du Plessis. Although De Villiers’ return will power the South African batting, but the question is – will it disrupt the team’s balance?
There was no issue whatsoever in this encounter regarding the selection as Du Plessis was ruled out due to injury, and instantly replaced by De Villiers. But when the skipper and strike bowler Dale Steyn join the squad for the series against India, South Africa will surely be in a state of dilemma.
De Villiers last played for South Africa in January 2016, since then, his absence has been huge to fill, but South Africa did find a way gradually. They did some shuffling and experimented to bridge the huge gap in their batting, and one wouldn’t be wrong in saying that they did succeed to a great extent.
Another major loss was the consistent absence of their strike bowler Dale Steyn, who became prone to injuries of late. He has been out of action for a while now. Steyn didn’t play a single Test this year and featured in only three games in 2016. Saying that the loss of two stalwarts was huge would be an understatement for South Africa. But, South Africa did find a way in the absence of De Villiers and Steyn, which was commendable.
Let’s be honest, a team does find a way out. Although the process is slow and steady, but it eventually works out. With De Villiers’ future in Test cricket being uncertain in the recent times, South Africa did learn to operate without him. Although his return is always a boon to the side, still, it will certainly affect the balance.
The current top-four just looks solid with a firing Aiden Markram, a fighting Dean Elgar, a consistent Hashim Amla and sturdy Faf du Plessis. South Africa just can’t afford to play up with this order. They have adapted to their respective roles with perfection.
Yes, it’s true that none of them are as flamboyant as De Villiers and the latter belongs to a different league altogether. But as of now, the only position that seems likely for De Villiers is five. Then who will face the axe? The line-up against Zimbabwe was six batsmen, an all-rounder and four bowlers. But with two high profile series scheduled against India and Australia, De Villiers’ presence will be pivotal.
When Du Plessis makes it back to the side against India, either Andile Phehlukwayo or Temba Bavuma will make way for the skipper. In Phehlukwayo, South Africa have a much-needed all-rounder and his exclusion will certainly put a bit of pressure and workload on the bowling department. While Bavuma’s exclusion will give a bit of relief to the bowlers with the presence of an all-rounder. Most likely, Phehlukwayo will get a nod as South Africa would not want to wear their bowlers out.
Talking about South Africa’s bowling, the likes of Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel have stepped up and did well in the recent times. In fact, the only time this South African side faced a terrible run was in England recently, losing the four-match series by 3-1.
With Philander getting those crucial runs and being prolific with the ball and Rabada’s evolution into a deadly force, the selection for a third seamer will eventually come down between Steyn and Morkel. But with the kind of form Morkel has been off late, it would be foolish to bench him against India. He can generate that awkward bounce, which will test India’s Achilles heels’ on bouncy surfaces.
With Keshav Maharaj being the sole spinner, South Africa would want to play at least three seamers, but that will also demand an all-rounder to shoulder the bowling responsibilities, which is where Phehlukwayo or even Chris Morris will come handy. But the dilemma regarding Steyn’s selection is huge. He comes with a reputation, but what about match fitness? It will be interesting to see what South Africa opt for?
One thing is for sure, South Africa cannot afford to overlook either of them, both, De Villiers and Steyn bring a lot of experience to the table. De Villiers is a match-winner while Steyn can make the ball talk when fit. The series opener kick starts January 5 in Cape Town, and fans would love to watch both the stalwarts in action, but will it hamper the balance? Well, time will unveil the mystery.