Elgar and Rickelton stake claims in domestic cup for Proteas Test berths
SA’s most experienced Test player tops the run-scoring charts in the four-day competition
With the World Cup now a memory, attention has turned to the Proteas’ primary summer assignment against India with many players seeking form or trying to attract the selectors’ attention particularly for the two Tests.
Most of the World Cup players are having an extended break and are likely to be in action again for the T20 and ODI series, which will start next week. But for those such as former Test captain Dean Elgar and Lions batter Ryan Rickelton, the Four-Day Series is a crucial part of the preparation for the two Tests against the Indians, the first of which starts on Boxing Day in Centurion.
Elgar, SA’s most experienced Test player, has had an excellent start to his season for the Northern Titans, and tops the run-scoring charts in the four-day competition, albeit after just two matches.
He has scored two centuries in four innings, and while that may be deemed too small a sample size, when added to the three hundreds Elgar made in the One-Day Cup, it allays any concerns that Proteas Test coach Shukri Conrad may have had about the grizzled opener.
Elgar is a vital presence at the top of the order, and his battling qualities marry well alongside Aiden Markram’s greater aggression. Markram is one of a handful of multiformat players unlikely to feature domestically before India’s arrival. He is captain of the Proteas T20 side, and will be in action from next Sunday when that three-match series starts in Durban.
Conrad is having to balance preparation for the Indian series while keeping an eye on prospective candidates for the New Zealand tour in January. That two-match series will feature a much-changed Proteas team, with none of the national contracted players available because of the SA20, which will be played at the same time.
Most candidates for the New Zealand tour are involved in the SA A side, which is playing a series of four-day matches against West Indies A. Tony de Zorzi and Keegan Petersen, who both featured in the Proteas’ most recent Test series against the West Indies nine months ago are in the SA A side, seeking form and confidence.
Among those who have remained with their provincial teams, Rickelton and Wiaan Mulder have been the outstanding performers in the first two rounds of the four-day tournament.
Rickelton, who has admitted he may have tried too hard to impress in the second Test against the Windies last season, has continued his excellent domestic form for Central Gauteng Lions, making 150, while behind the stumps his work continues to be efficient, with nine catches.
It may create an intriguing selection debate as Conrad and Test skipper Temba Bavuma weigh up Rickelton and Kyle Verreynne’s credentials. Rickelton has yet to don the wicketkeeper’s gloves at international level, while Verreynne was somewhat surprisingly axed from the side after last summer’s disastrous tour to Australia.
While Verreynne performed superbly in leading Western Province to success in the One-Day Cup final, in which he scored a hundred against North West, his returns in the four-day Series — which include one half-century from two innings — have been modest, especially when measured alongside Rickelton.
Both could be accommodated in the middle order, and there is also Heinrich Klaasen, who played both Tests against the West Indies who may be considered as well.
Mulder has continued the excellent form he showed for Leicestershire in the UK for the Lions, scoring more than 200 runs while also claiming 11 wickets in the opening two rounds of the four-day competition.
Where he might fit into the picture remains to be seen. He was in the starting XI in the second Test against the West Indies, and should be pushing for consideration for a spot that is likely to go to Marco Jansen.
Conrad will want to keep all options open. There is still time for players to press their case, with this week’s round of matches likely to be crucial.
The Lions, who top the log, head to Gqeberha to face the Warriors, the Titans play WP at Newlands, Boland host the Dolphins in Paarl and North West take on KZN Inland in Potchefstroom.
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