Cricket: South Africa unchanged for England Tests
South Africa’s selectors have expressed confidence in the players that won the Test series in New Zealand 1-0 and named an unchanged squad for the tour of England in July and August. South Africa, the No. 2 Test side, can claim the No 1 spot from England by winning the three-match series.
Graeme Smith, South Africa’s Test captain, has recovered from ankle surgery that ruled him out of the IPL, and has had throw-downs with Gary Kirsten already. Smith’s wife is due to give birth to the couple’s first-child after the first Test and he will return home, but is unlikely to miss a Test. The tour will mark significant milestones in Smith’s career with the first Test at the Oval his 100th and the second the match in which he will surpass Allan Border as the most capped captain, provided he plays in it.
AB de Villiers will be the reserve wicketkeeper for the Test series, which could be Mark Boucher’s final international assignment. Thami Tsolekile, who was awarded a national contract in February, was expected to be part of the tour with Mark Boucher’s impending retirement. Instead, AB de Villiers has been named Boucher’s understudy, but Tsolekile will be close at hand, if needed.
“We decided that instead of have Thami on the bench, waiting for a game, we would have him playing in the A series in Ireland instead,” Andrew Hudson, convenor of selectors told ESPNcricinfo. “We did think of having a 16-man squad with Thami in it, but decided it would be better to have him playing.”
Tsolekile will play in two four-day matches against Sri Lanka A, starting at on June 30, in Durban, and will also be part of the group of players who will spend time in Ireland. South Africa are sending their A side to Ireland at the same time as the Test squad tours England, similar to England’s policy during the 2010 Ashes in Australia, to ensure they have enough reserves ready to play if needed. So Tsolekile is likely to be called on if needed.
Hudson could not confirm South Africa’s long-term wicket-keeping plans and said they will be decided on “tour by tour”. As matters stand, Boucher is set to retire after the third Test at Lord’s which ends on August 20.
Another player whose Test career may be over is Ashwell Prince. The middle-order batsman was left out of the squad, despite having his national contract renewed in February. Prince last played in the 2011 Boxing Day Test against Sri Lanka when he was involved in a disastrous run-out with Hashim Amla, which was thought to have sealed his fate. Prince was dropped for the New Year’s Test and was also left out of the tour to New Zealand.
His place, at No.6 in the batting order, was taken by Jacques Rudolph, who was moved down after four unsuccessful Test at the top of the order. Rudolph scored a century in the Dunedin Test in New Zealand to prolong his stay in the national side. As back-up to Rudolph, JP Duminy has been included in the squad. Duminy made his Test comeback in Wellington and also scored a hundred to put him higher up in the queue than Prince for a Test place.
“We were delighted that JP stepped up and performed when we needed him in New Zealand. It showed us the depth we have in that position” Hudson said. “I would never write anybody off, so we are still watching Ashwell. It’s good to see that he has gone to England and is playing in those conditions. If he does amazing things at domestic level, he could fight for his place back.” Prince has spent the winter playing at Lancashire where he has scored at least 50 in each of his last four matches and 144 in one of them.
Also in contention for the No.6 spot is Faf du Plessis, who will captain the A side in the upcoming fixtures against Sri Lanka. Du Plessis put in good performances on the South African first-class scene last season, where he scored 599 runs in four matches at an average of 85.57, and Hudson said du Plessis is categorised as one for the future. “He will have to bide his time but we’ve noted how well he has done,” he said. “But because of the nature of the squad we have now, he will have to knock someone off to get a look in. We have six spots and seven batsmen in good nick, so it’s very hard to find gaps.”
Squad: Graeme Smith (capt), Hashim Amla, Mark Boucher, Marchant de Lange, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Imran Tahir, Jacques Kallis, Morne Morkel, Alviro Petersen, Robin Peterson, Vernon Philander, Jacques Rudolph, Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa