SRI LANKA TESTS
Faf mulls option of seven batsmen or two spinners
Tabraiz Shamsi or Theunis de Bruyn?
It’s a simple question complicated by the conditions‚ the weather and the opposition.
But it is a trifle compared to the upheaval the home side are likely to face: no captain‚ no coach‚ no manager.
Here we go‚ cricket lovers… the new season is upon us.
SA need to have answers to selectorial questions ready on Thursday morning when Faf du Plessis walks out to the middle in Galle‚ team sheet for the first Test against Sri Lanka in hand.
"We had a look at the wicket and it is quite dry‚" Du Plessis said in Galle on Wednesday.
"For us, we need to consider whether to play seven batsmen or two spinners; that’s the decision we’ll have to make.
"We certainly still believe that our three seamers can get wickets on a dry pitch.
"The ball will reverse swing if it’s dry‚ and with pace reverse swing is always a factor. The decision will lie on whether we want to play a second spinner‚ or an extra batsmen."
There would seem to be no chance‚ then‚ of the visitors picking another spinner at the expense of one of their quicks.
Why should there be? On their last visit to Galle — in July 2014 — Dale Steyn and Morné Morkel claimed 16 wickets in SA’s 153-run win. Morkel has retired but another veteran of that match‚ Vernon Philander‚ is still at it with all his skill and even more experience.
Steyn‚ his injuries repaired and his fire stoked‚ needs three wickets to become SA’s champion bowler. "Dale’s X-factor is how he picks up wickets with a reverse-swinging ball‚" Du Plessis said.
"His way of getting wickets with the new ball is getting it to move around a little bit with swing and a little bit of seam‚ and really consistently.
"But there’s a period of the game Dale gets his tail up. He gets one wicket‚ and is up there with the most dangerous bowlers in the world — because he is so skillful and can get the ball to reverse swing at pace.
"I’m hoping to see Dale bowl really quick again. He hasn’t bowled for a long time‚ so he’ll be excited to get the opportunity again. It’s a good sight to see when he gets the ball reversing‚ and he’s running in, getting those legs going really‚ really fast."
To throw Kagiso Rabada‚ the No1-ranked bowler‚ into that mix seems almost unfair on the Lankans‚ but that is their likely fate. "[Rabada has] the ability now to swing the ball both ways with a reverse-swinging ball‚ which is a skill that not a lot of bowlers have‚" Du Plessis said.
"And, once again‚ pace against any subcontinent team is something you want to expose. We’ll have to see to what extent the wicket allows for that."
Rabada’s place is surely safe‚ but the South Africans have the option of Lungi Ngidi‚ all 1.93m of him‚ thundering in and unleashing at 150km/h.
Rain has lashed the southwestern port city for much of the past week and could disrupt the match‚ which will add a layer of complexity to SA’s selection decisions.
"We’re still contemplating who the best-suited seamers will be for the wicket‚" Du Plessis said.
"Because of the rain we haven’t had a lot of practice for the last two days for the bowlers," said Du Plessis.
Among the certainties is that left-armer Keshav Maharaj‚ who after only 20 Tests is ranked seventh among slow bowlers‚ will play.
"Kesh bowls the majority of his Test overs on flat wickets‚ wickets that don’t assist him at all‚" Du Plessis said.
"The thing with Kesh is that he gives you control; the best spinners in the world have got a huge strength in control.
"Kesh’s control is already there. We know that.
"Now he’s got pitches that offer him turn."
Whether Maharaj gets left-arm wrist spinner Shamsi as a spin twin is as yet not known‚ and batsman De Bruyn looks like the prime candidate to make way if Shamsi cracks the nod.
But that uncertainty is nothing compared to what the home side are dealing with as they wait to hear Dinesh Chandimal’s fate.
Sri Lanka’s captain seems set to be banned for both Tests on a charge of conduct contrary to the spirit of the game‚ which he earned because his team held up play for two hours arguing with the umpires over a claim of ball-tampering‚ since found to be true‚ in St Lucia in June.
Coach Chandika Hathurusingha and manager Asanka Gurusinha could suffer the same fate at a hearing that was ongoing at the time of writing.
Other people’s problems…