Two of South African cricket’s brightest comets will come around again on Thursday. Or are they going this time.

One was last seen in a South African shirt in June‚ the other in July. Neither would have picked a meaningless game at the country’s most unlovely major ground for their return.

But it is what it is‚ and AB de Villiers and JP Duminy are part of the SA Invitation XI who will play a 50-over match against the touring Bangladeshis at Bloemfontein’s oft-renamed oval‚ where unadorned concrete as grey as death itself crumbles gracelessly all around and the pitch is about as interesting as dandruff.

The fact that SA’s squad for the one-day series against Bangladesh‚ which starts down the road from Bloemfontein in Kimberley on Sunday‚ was announced more than a week ago tells us all we need to know about the lack of importance of Thursday’s match.

If the game held any relevance for the national selectors‚ who have not yet had the chance to see SA’s players in one-day action this season‚ they would have waited until it was over to pick the squad.

Instead this match’s only wider significance is to give the Bangladeshis the chance to attune themselves to white-ball cricket in local conditions.

But for De Villiers and Duminy‚ the game looms larger than it has a right to.

It will be De Villiers’s first game since the third T20 against England in Cardiff in June‚ the Titans’ first-class match against the Warriors in Benoni at the weekend excepted.

For De Villiers‚ who has chosen not to play in SA’s last 17 Tests, this is a chance to remind himself and the public what it means to be part of a South African team ahead of his anticipated comeback in the format against India in January.

Duminy last played at any significant level in the first Test against England at Lord’s in July‚ which was followed in September by his retirement from Test and first-class cricket.

He will want to underline his white-ball worth now that he has given up a third of his international involvement.

Both will be under pressure to perform; not because there are doubts about their ability, but because SA’s teams might just have moved on from them.

SA have won 10 and lost only four of the Tests they have played since De Villiers last graced them with his presence.

The fact that three of those defeats were suffered on the winter tour to England could be taken to mean a De Villiers-shaped vacuum looms in the middle of the batting order.

But having scored five and 32 for the Titans‚ he will need plenty of runs in the one-dayers and T20s against Bangladesh if his value in the Test team is not to be questioned.

Thursday’s match is thus the start of De Villiers’s mission to quell those questions.

Duminy remains a respected one-day player but he has gone a year and 10 innings without reaching 50 in the format.

The best players, like comets, like De Villiers and Duminy, come and go.


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