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Rob Walters. Picture: FACEBOOK
Rob Walters. Picture: FACEBOOK

The sense of irony was not lost on Test coach Shukri Conrad and limited-overs coach Rob Walter when they explained the prevailing rationale for the composition of their three squads to play India in a multiformat tour beginning on December 10.

“We are prioritising the Test matches as it’s the start of the World Test Championship,” Walter said in explaining the omission of several first-choice players from the T20I and one-day international (ODI) squads, with both of those three-match series preceding the two Test matches on December 26 and January 3.

Conrad has been simultaneously preparing two almost entirely separate Test squads because, less than a month after the second fixture against India, he is required to take a team to New Zealand for another two Tests that have painfully been given no priority at all. More than 50 of the country’s best cricketers are not available for selection as they are contracted to their SA20 franchises.

Such is the priority given to the Tests against India that all the fast bowlers in contention have been omitted from the ODI squad to play a four-day match for their provinces, which clashes with the ODIs.

“It wasn’t a long conversation to decide what is best for SA cricket and to prioritise the Test matches,” said Conrad. Both coaches emphasised their satisfaction that the ODI captain, Temba Bavuma, should miss the ODI series to be fresh for the Tests.

“Nothing has changed. He is still the skipper of the one-day side, and has been phenomenal throughout the year. But there is a mental toll to the pressures of a World Cup and the scrutiny of a captain through that. So for him to be able to step away from the game for a while and prepare for the Tests — which are our priority — that drives our decision-making. It was the right thing to do for Temba and for his cricket,” said Walter.

“All the quick bowlers will play for their provinces in that round of four-day matches as well as Temba coming back refreshed,” said Conrad. “Other players were given the choice. We have to trust the players to know what their best preparation looks like and I’m comfortable with that.”

Conrad spoke about the need to select “specialist” squads for the Tests in Bangladesh and the West Indies next year.

It was a good job the camera on his laptop wasn’t working during yesterday’s online press conference, but it was just about possible to hear his eyes rolling when discussing the Test series in February. “New Zealand is New Zealand,” he said. “We have to be flexible in selections, that’s the way of international cricket these days.”

The continuing SA A series against West Indies A, which concludes with the deciding third game in Bloemfontein on Tuesday, is his last chance to prepare the second-string Test team.

“We all know that squad has got one eye on New Zealand, and that’s why I assembled it like that,” Conrad said. He dutifully maintained his loyal silence on the administrative bungle that placed him in the current predicament.

There were exciting changes in the squad for the Indian Tests with WP left-arm fast bowler Nandré Burger being rewarded for outstanding domestic form as a potential “enforcer” replacement for the injured Anrich Nortjé. Tristan Stubbs, too, was recognised for long-form batting skills outside the T20 and 50-over arenas.

SA’s paucity of all-rounders at international level in recent years resulted in a well-deserved maiden call-up for WP’s Mihlali Mpongwana to the ODI squad and a recall for Wiaan Mulder, who is far too good a cricketer to be left on the sidelines.

There was no place in any squad for Dewald Brevis but “he will definitely play again and I have communicated that to him. The better the player missing out, the better our system is,” said Walter, who also confirmed that conversations were taking place with 39-year-old former captain Faf du Plessis about a role in the squad for the T20 World Cup in seven months’ time.

Others who remain in contention for that tournament but who were not named in the T20 squad on Monday are Rilee Rossouw and Quinton de Kock, who was given permission to play in Australia’s Big Bash League. “When Quinny decided to walk away from ODI cricket he was going to retire altogether from international cricket, but this was the compromise just to keep him in the game,” said Walter.

Heinrich Klaasen’s batting ability against spin means Conrad will “almost certainly” recall him for the Tests in Bangladesh and the Caribbean next year but, for now, he has been usurped by the man he in turn had replaced — WP captain Kyle Verreynne.

Proteas T20I squad against India

Matthew Breetzke, Reeza Hendricks, Aiden Markram (captain), Tristan Stubbs, David Miller, Donovan Ferreira, Heinrich Klaasen, Marco Jansen, Andile Phehlukwayo, Gerald Coetzee, Keshav Maharaj, Ottniel Baartman, Nandre Burger, Lizaad Williams, Lungi Ngidi, Tabraiz Shamsi.

Proteas ODI squad against India

Reeza Hendricks, Tony de Zorzi, Rassie van der Dussen, Aiden Markram (captain), Heinrich Klaasen, David Miller, Kyle Verreynne, Wiaan Mulder, Andile Phehlukwayo, Keshav Maharaj, Ottniel Baartman, Nandre Burger, Mihlali Mpongwana, Tabraiz Shamsi, Lizaad Williams.   

Proteas Test squad against India

Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Tony de Zorzi, Temba Bavuma (captain), David Bedingham, Tristan Stubbs, Keegan Petersen, Kyle Verreynne, Marco Jansen, Wiaan Mulder, Keshav Maharaj, Gerald Coetzee, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Nandre Burger.

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