AB de Villiers (above) is the best candidate to fill in for Jacques Kallis at the No 4 spot © Getty Images
By Shrikant Shankar
South Africa have announced their squad to face Australia in the upcoming three-match Test series. There were two notable inclusions in the 15-man squad as all-rounders Ryan McLaren and Wayne Parnell were added: this is the first time in 18 years South Africa have assembled a Test squad without Jacques Kallis in it; the legendary all-rounder had retired in December 2013 after playing against India in Durban. This is where South Africa have to get their team selection right.
They have also dropped Imran Tahir from the squad and have picked Robin Peterson as the lone spinner. Tahir had a forgettable outing against India in the first Test in Johannesburg. The leg-spinner will also not have fond memories of the last time he played against Australia. He was taken to the cleaners by the likes of David Warner, Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey in Adelaide in November 2012. Tahir conceded 180 runs in the first innings and 80 runs in the second and went wicket-less.
Most of the starting XI would remain the same from the match against India in Durban. The stars will be present as usual. Captain Graeme Smith, AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander will start unless injured. Alviro Petersen is expected to open with Smith after a solid sowing against India, especially in the second Test. Faf du Plessis cannot be left out after some herculean efforts against Australia in that very Adelaide Test and also against India at Johannesburg.
JP Duminy and Peterson will also make the grade. Now it is that one slot vacated by Kallis that is very important to South Africa. Kallis was South Africa’s Sachin Tendulkar. He nearly closed in on Tendulkar’s most number of centuries record in Tests and was took many wickets with the ball. He also took 200 catches to go along with that — a complete all-rounder in every way. Kallis batted at No 4 for South Africa. De Villiers is the perfect fit to bat at that slot and that would also push du Plessis up the order.
As Duminy will bat below du Plessis, one of McLaren, Peterson and Parnell will have to bat at seven. McLaren and Parnell are primarily bowling all-rounders: McLaren has an average of 30.63 in First-Class cricket, so, he would be expected to go in at seven; he is also a handy right-arm medium-fast bowler as well. On the other hand Parnell’s average is 22.34. Peterson is more or less certain to start being the only genuine spinner, which means that South Africa will have to decide between McLaren and Parnell.
Kallis had been solid with the bat and scored a lot of runs. He also kept on chipping in with important wickets. With him retiring, the batting has gotten a bit weaker while the bowling might have become stronger. The in the squad are batsman Dean Elgar, the fast bowler Rory Kleinveldt (who can bat a bit) and backup wicketkeeper Thami Tsolekile. Kleinveldt also is an option for the Proteas if they look for the extra fast bowler. But as has been proved time and again — Steyn, Morkel and Philander are almost always good enough to take on any batting line-up. That could pave the way for Elgar to add that extra number in the batting department.
Selecting the right XI is important as a lot rides on this series. Australia are a different machine now with Mitchell Johnson in full flow. His best records in Test cricket have also come against South Africa. Despite winning the last two Test series in Australia, South Africa have not won a home Test series against Australia since 1970. The first Test starts on February 12 at Centurion. One can expect an enthralling series.
(Shrikant Shankar is a writer/reporter at CricketCountry.com. Previously he has done audio commentary for various matches involving India, Indian Premier League and Champions League Twenty20 for ESPNSTAR.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Shrikant_23)