TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
SIX months without first-class cricket is enough to mislay the finer points of test batting and bowling, particularly if the likely conditions are not hardwired into the muscle memory.
That will be part of the challenge facing SA when they tour Bangladesh in July to play two T20s, three one-day internationals and two tests.
When the test series starts on the July 21 – and if SA’s or SA A’s fixtures are not added to – four key players in their most recent test XI will not have picked up a bat in first-class anger in more than six months.
Another four will last have played in whites in March while another, Alviro Petersen, has retired from the international scene. That will leave only two, Hashim Amla and Vernon Philander, who are currently playing for Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, warmed up and ready to go.
Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel will not have seen any first-class action between the Newlands test against West Indies in January and the start of the Bangladesh series. The upside is that all will be attuned to the conditions having played in the Indian Premier League.
In fact, they could be in better nick than Dean Elgar, Temba Bavuma, Stiaan van Zyl and Simon Harmer, who were last played first-class cricket for their franchises involved in the second half of March.
Either way coming in from the cold of the off-season to a test series on the sub-continent could prove a rude awakening.
“Preparation will be mental more than anything else considering the conditions will be so different to what we’re used to,” Bavuma said on Monday.
“But we’ll try and simulate those conditions as much as possible beforehand, and I’m sure the younger guys will look to the more experienced players for the example they need to follow.”
Bavuma said he had worked on his fitness and would resume batting “in the next week or so”.
The situation promises to test the selectors. How do they go about picking a squad on precious little evidence of current of even recent form?
“You can only go on what you know and in this instance that means mostly what’s happened in the past,” former selection convenor Mike Procter said on Monday.
“You would work out who should play and consider the claims of a couple of youngsters and golden oldies.”
Procter agreed that the fact that top ranked SA would face a side pegged at No. 9 took the edge off what might have been a significant challenge.
“If they were going to England, for instance, it would be different,” he said. “But then it would probably have been arranged differently.”
Amla scored one and 20 against Northamptonshire earlier this month in his only first-class match for Derbyshire so far. Philander took 4/56 against Somerset on Sunday, as yet his best performance for Notts.