Dean Elgar wants South Africa to unleash all four of their frontline quicks against Australia. The opening batsman has also stressed the need for a slower bowler to change the pace in the upcoming four-Test series.
“I’d like to see all the [fast] bowlers play and the spinner,” Elgar said. “I think against Australia you potentially need to slow the game down, which they probably aren’t used to. So a guy like Keshav [Maharaj] has played well against them in the past, so he’ll play a big part in the series. Whether we play more quicks than what we usually do or less is up to the captain, coach and selectors.”
The South African squad includes four quicks – Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel, Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi – and young allrounder Willem Mulder. While Elgar played down the possibility of a debutant, saying the starting XI for the first Test would likely be “stock standard”. he would like the quartet of quicks to play, thereby continuing the strategy Ottis Gibson has employed since the India series.
Gibson is a fast-bowling-minded coach and has changed South Africa’s team composition to a 6-5 balance, with only half-a-dozen specialist batsmen including the wicketkeeper. Previously, during the Gary Kirsten and Russell Domingo eras, South Africa regularly fielded seven specialist batsmen, but towards the end of Domingo’s days shifted slightly to six batsmen, an allrounder, three quicks and a spinner. Gibson also tried the allrounder against Bangladesh but then opted for four out-and-out quicks for the first two Tests against India. The third Test, at the Wanderers in late January, saw four quicks and an allrounder with Maharaj sitting out, further emphasising his penchant for pace power.
Given that the Australia series is being talked up as a battle between the two bowling attacks, it might be tempting for South Africa to go in all guns blazing and field five quicks. But on coastal wickets at the end of the summer, which should be slightly slower than usual, Maharaj is almost certain to be included and Elgar believes both he and Nathan Lyon will play a big part in the series.
“I think either way they (spinners) are going to have an influence in the Tests, even if it’s holding up an end or trying to be attacking, which some surfaces might allow,” he said. “It is a bit of a battle of the seamers, but there is a world-class spinner in both sides, so it’s going to be exciting Test cricket.”
The real selection question then is whether South Africa play four quicks alongside Maharaj or if they feel they need to strengthen the batting against an Australian attack even Elgar is talking up. “They’re a vastly developed bowling attack,” Elgar said. “[Mitchell] Starc and [Josh] Hazlewood have been there for many a year and have honed their skills in different formats. Then there’s a guy like [Pat] Cummins who is good for the game because every time he has risen up he got injured. It’s good to see him staying in the game longer than usual.”
South Africa have three reserve batsmen in the squad – Temba Bavuma, Theunis de Bruyn and Heinrich Klaasen – all of whom have proven themselves. While Bavuma has been injured this year, he played two of his most noteworthy and nuggety innings against Australia in Perth and Hobart on South Africa’s tour in 2016-17, de Bruyn is coming off two big scores – 190 and 83 – in three first-class games earlier this month and Klaasen came to the fore in the limited-overs series against India. Any of the three could slot into the middle order.
Bavuma and de Bruyn are probably ahead of Klaasen in the queue but Klaasen’s presence is of particular interest because he is also the reserve wicketkeeper and Quinton de Kock has been out of form and injured. De Kock’s highest score in eight innings across all formats against India was 43 and he was dismissed in single figures four times in six Test innings. He has not scored a Test fifty in 14 innings since July last year and though both coach and captain have given him a vote of confidence, de Kock knows he now has a challenger. But that person, Klaasen, is unlikely to play as soon as the first Test, where South Africa will back their big names to come good.
Elgar, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis will form the spine of the line-up and young opener Aiden Markram will have a chance to test himself against a strong attack again. After two hundreds in his first three Tests against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, Makram had one significant score against India in six innings, 94 at SuperSport Park. He was then thrust into ODI leadership and under his watch, South Africa lost the series 5-1, with Markram unable to get past 32 in the series.
Gibson has admitted something was amiss with Markram and he was batting unlike the player he had first seen earlier in the summer. Now, he will hope Markram has dealt with the disappointment of his first taste of international captaincy and the dip in his own form and is ready to partner Elgar in giving South Africa strong starts in what is set to be a big series.
“It’s very important for him to clear his mind,” Elgar said. “He’s had seven to 10 days off which is potentially good for him given what happened in the ODIs. But Aiden has got a strong head and he will take in a lot of information. It’s important for him to use what info is going to strengthen his game. It’s always tough to see a guy go through that but Aiden is massively talented and is a cricketer for SA’s future. He’ll bounce back. He’s putting in a lot of hard yards. I think he realises he can’t take his talent for granted. It’s almost like you have to overprepare at this level.”