As Dale Steyn hobbled off the field yet another time – fourth in his last five Test series – South African fans appeared shell-shocked, almost numb at the thought of losing their most exciting fast bowler and second most successful one in Test cricket.
But life is a constant myriad of changes. Forgetting and moving on is something known to every human who has gone through the crests and troughs life presents. However, in a closely fought Test series between the World’s no.1 and no.2 Test side, there is little room to sit and ponder over your loss.
South Africa proved that they had moved on from Steyn’s unavailability this series by bringing in two exciting fast bowlers – Duanne Olivier and uncapped Lungi Ngidi – for the Centurion Test. But with their shoddy batting performance at Cape Town and a quicker Supersport Park awaiting them, replacing Steyn with another out and out seamer may not be a blindfolded call. Here we discuss the selection conundrums South Africa have in front of them before the all important Centurion Test beginning on Saturday.
The Temba quandary
All the talk surrounding the first Test ended at AB de Villiers much anticipated return. The flamboyant superman rightly justified all the hullabaloo when he lambasted the Indians in two game-changing innings’ at Cape Town. But one man, possibly the most sturdy of South Africa’s batsmen last summer, Temba Bavuma, watched all the action unfold from the sidelines.
Having made his name as a steely lower middle-order batsman and an electrifying fielder Bavuma was the scapegoat when de Villiers returned to a packed top six. Ottis Gibson, the new head coach, preferred a four-pronged pace attack which left little room for the short Bavuma who had barely put a wrong foot since his Test debut.
But with South Africa’s top order suffering set-backs twice, they might just ponder bringing Bavuma to the middle-order as an extra batting option in place of Dale Steyn. It not only satisfies their transformation guideline (Transformation guidelines state that they need to play four coloured players and two black players across formats over the course of a year) but also reduces the onus on the top six.
Bavuma has shown in his short career so far that he has it in him to grind it out when the going gets tough. He and Quinton de Kock act as the perfect foil to each other – in terms of defence and attack – and their enviable pairing at 6 and 7 might just prompt Gibson to deviate from his four pace bowler policy or drop Maharaj.
All-round options in Morris and Phehlukwayo
Picking Bavuma has its plus points, but with two all-rounders in the squad, a “bowling-minded coach” like Ottis Gibson might just be prompted to beef up the batting while not compromising on the bowling front. This makes sense, not just because South Africa love all-rounders, but also because their premier pace bowlers have succumbed to injury in the middle of a Test on several occasions of late.
Going in with four bowlers could be risky since if one of them walks off in the middle, they are left with three frontline bowlers and an irregular part-timer in Aiden Markram, which isn’t the ideal scenario to have.
Chris Morris hasn’t played a First-class match since his return from injury but bowled particularly well in short bursts in England. His added ability with the bat – in the Hardik Pandya mould – makes him an enticing option to have.
Andile Phehlukwayo, on the other hand, had played all of the three Tests against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe and fared particularly well in the day-night encounter at Port Elizabeth. He offers promise with the bat too – although not to the extent of Morris – and offers better control of the ball in hand.
The left-field option
All said and done, if rumours from South Africa are to be believed, Lungi Ngidi, the wild Titans tearaway is most likely to get a debut at Centurion having impressed Ottis Gibson in the nets bowling at Dean Elgar and Aiden Markram.
“In this series and for the rest of the summer, we will be looking to see how best we can fit four fast bowlers into whatever formula we come up with,” South Africa coach Ottis Gibson had told reporters.
“When you are playing at home, you must play to your strengths. If you want to beat the best team in the world, which India are, then maybe we have to do something slightly different to what we’ve done in the past.”
“We have to get stuck in and be tough with the bat and the ball; get in their faces a bit and use our physicality in terms of our pace”, Gibson had said.
All of this could mean an exciting debut for Lungisani Ngidi in the offing. He had been particularly impressive in his T20I debut series and his searing pace and height make him a great Test prospect.
In 9 First-class matches, he has already managed to take three five-fors and Indian batsmen’s long-standing troubles against out and out fast bowlers further enhance Ngidi’s chances.