Picture: REUTERS/Jason Reed
Picture: REUTERS/Jason Reed

Cape Cobras batsman Zubayr Hamza is the surprise selection in the Proteas’ 13-man squad for the forthcoming three-Test series against Pakistan.

Should the 23-year-old right-hander make his debut that starts on Boxing Day at SuperSport Park in Centurion‚ he will be the 100th player to represent the Proteas since April 1992 when SA played their first Test since apartheid-enforced isolation began in 1970, against the West Indies in Barbados.

Hamza is part of a Cape Cobras unit that is sitting pretty at the top of the Four-Day Franchise series table and has been a key cog in a young top order that has functioned fluently.

Hamza‚ a product of Rondebosch Boy’s High School in Cape Town‚ made his first-class debut for Western Province against KwaZulu-Natal Inland when he was still 18.

He scored 29 and two in the drawn three-day game, but in 50 subsequent outings he has made 3,543 runs.

He averages 48.95 with nine first-class tons and 22 fifties but in nine innings in five Four-Day Franchise matches this season‚ he has collected 255 runs at 31.87 with two fifties.

He is the 20th-highest redball run-scorer this season in a group that is led by Knights batsman Piet van Biljon (574 runs at 63.77) and Hamza’s teammate Pieter Malan (492 runs at 54.66).

Hamza has played less first-class cricket than the duo but has a better career average (Van Biljon: 42.47 and Malan: 45.81). Malan could consider himself unlucky because he has been a consistent performer regardless of the Cape Cobras’ fluctuations in the past four seasons.

At 29‚ Malan also has a few good batting years ahead of him. Hamza, though, had a standout season in 2017; he was fourth on the red-ball charts with 828 runs at 69 with three 100s and four 50s.

National convenor of selectors Linda Zondi‚ whose eye is often on the future‚ said Hamza’s selection has potential future retirements in mind.

Zondi said Hamza’s good form for SA A has also worked in his favour.

Stalwarts Faf du Plessis and Hashim Amla are on the wrong side of 30 and their future in all forms of cricket will come under scrutiny after the 2019 World Cup in England.

“Zubayr has been one of the standout cricketers in domestic cricket over the past year and carried that form into the SA A tour to India where he averaged over 50 in the four-day series against tough opposition and under tough conditions.

“Before that‚ he had an outstanding season in the four-day franchise competition where he scored 823 runs‚ including three centuries‚ at the impressive average of 69,” Zondi said.

“His selection is part of our vision for the future as we start to feed new players into the system. It is inevitable that some of our senior players will start thinking of retiring in years to come and it is vital that we have a good succession plan in place.”

Lungi Ngidi is nursing a knee injury that he sustained in the sole T20 against Australia in November and that rules him out of the first part of SA’s Test summer. Duanne Olivier‚ who has bowled well in the Mzansi Super League and collected 20 Four-Day Franchise wickets at 22.80‚ will fill in for him.