South Africa unlikely to ring in major changes for pink-ball Test

Tabraiz Shamsi caused a lot of problems for the Australian batsman in the recent ODI series in South Africa © AFP

Don’t expect major changes in the South Africa XI when they play their first day-night Test in Adelaide in a week’s time. Early indications show they are not looking to shake up the batting line-up but there may be a spot for chinaman bowler Tabraiz Shamsi, who was seen practising alone with the pink ball in the indoor nets in Hobart during the second Test.

“I don’t think we are going to change much. It’s important that we maintain the stability of the squad and the structure of the starting XI,” Linda Zondi, South Africa’s convener of selectors, said. “We’ve picked the squad based on what we feel will be the right combination. We are fortunate that we’ve got so much variation. If we feel Shamsi will play a role, we will definitely choose him but [Keshav] Maharaj has done well. It’s a nice problem to have. It boils down to the case of the decision to be made and we will see the conditions on the day.”

Statistical evidence does not help Shamsi’s case either. He only bowled three overs in the pink ball warm-up match in Adelaide and was South Africa’s most expensive bowler in the next practice game, a regular red-ball fixture. Neither was he part of the South Africa A side that played two unofficial Tests against Australia A in winter. However, evidence from India’s Duleep Trophy shows that wristspinners can have success with the pink ball. Kuldeep Yadav, a chinaman bowler like Shamsi, led the wicket-charts and Yuvraj Singh said he saw batsmen struggle against wristspinners.

Australia’s batsmen had a hard time against Shamsi in the ODI series in South Africa, which Zondi will be aware of. Vernon Philander is nursing a sore shoulder from his collision with Steven Smith, and concerns remain over Morne Morkel’s match-readiness. With those factors and a ball that wears quickly, South Africa may surprise by picking two spinners in the starting XI.

The pink ball could also force a different thought about the composition of the line-up, perhaps with a push for more aggressive players upfront to maximise scoring chances. Quinton de Kock, or even Rilee Rossouw, whose form against Australia in the ODIs earned him a spot in the Test squad, would seem likely candidates given Stephen Cook has yet to find his stride on this tour. Zondi, however, indicated such drastic measures won’t be used.

“You need to back players, it’s very important. A player shouldn’t walk into a match knowing ‘This is the last game that I’ll be playing’,” he said. “If you look at Stiaan van Zyl, there was a time when he was really struggling and we needed to back him and we did. You need to give players enough opportunity. That’s something we want to maintain. Yes, there will come a time when you’ve crossed the line but we’ve got to be fair in terms of saying we’ve given a guy enough chances and only then look another way.”

Van Zyl, a regular middle-order player who has since signed a Kolpak deal and taken himself out of the Test equation, was given the job of opening the batting when Alviro Petersen retired in 2014 but was not able to fit in. In eight innings between January and December 2015, van Zyl managed only 156 runs at 22.28, which included South Africa’s nightmare tour of India late last year. Yet, the selectors stuck with him for the return series against England at home. He was dropped only after he had failed over a full calendar year and was replaced by the in-form Cook, who scored a century on debut against England in Centurion.

Cook has spent more than a decade in the franchise structures and was among the top ten run-scorers for seven seasons before being given an opportunity, and it is expected that his future will not be decided on two poor Tests in Australia, especially as South Africa are strong everywhere else. “When you look at the different roles and the structure of the side, we’ve got enough combinations in the middle order with bowling allrounders as well, so even if the challenge remains upfront, it’s only fair that we give whoever we pick a good run,” Zondi said.

Another factor in Cook’s favour is that South Africa do not plan on experimenting excessively, despite the series being won. They’re chasing a whitewash and a consistency to carry into the home summer and the series in New Zealand, as they look to climb the rankings again. “From a selection point of view, we try by all means to make sure we sustain and maintain the continuation of the side,” Zondi said. “It’s about guys understanding and having awareness of their roles in the side. The more they understand their roles, the better for the team and the better for us as we are moving forward.”

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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