TELFORD VICE, Bulawayo
SHOULD Faf du Plessis or JP Duminy be in the SA team for the first test against New Zealand at Kingsmead on August 19?
That’s a simple question but, as is usual in cricket, the answer is complicated. And, as we dealing with SA cricket, it is vexed with complexities.
Not the least of them is that Du Plessis will replace the injured AB de Villiers as SA’s captain for the series.
But let’s get a grip on the facts before we get into the opinion and emotion of it all.
Du Plessis last scored a test century against West Indies at St George’s Park in December 2014. Since then he has mustered 317 runs at 21.13 in 15 completed innings, reaching 50 twice.
Duminy’s unbeaten 100 against Sri Lanka in Galle in July 2014 is the last time he was able to celebrate a test hundred. In his dozen completed trips to the crease since then he has scraped together 178 runs at 14.83 with one half-century.
How far have the once mighty fallen? Du Plessis’ career average is 41.02 and Duminy’s 32.34. Before their form dipped those numbers were 51.67 and 36.02.
If the SA’s batting line-up was St Peter’s Basilica, Du Plessis’ stoicism would invite comparisons with one of the immovable pillars holding the grand old pile steady for the ages.
Duminy would be the cathedral’s most arresting piece of art, Michelangelo’s Pietà, the sculpture of Mary cradling the crucified Jesus.
That, however, only holds true when they are batting as well as they can – which hasn’t been the case for much of the past two years.
But this comparison isn’t on the level. Du Plessis has batted at Nos. 3, 4 and 5 in 27 of his 45 innings, while 35 of Duminy’s 53 trips to the crease have been at Nos. 6 and 7.
Du Plessis, at his best, is a rock solid top order man. Duminy, at his best, is a middle order magician.
They are masters of their contrasting crafts and, when they are on song, they are both vital to SA’s cause.
But it seems the dressingroom ain’t big enough for the both of them these days.
They found that out the hard way against England last season, when Duminy was dropped for the second and third tests and Du Plessis was left out for the finale.
So, which of them might crack the nod when AB de Villiers hands over his team sheet at the toss in Durban on August 19?
The likely conditions remain a mystery, what with Kingsmead never having hosted a first-class match in August.
The balance of the team will be another factor, even though both are primarily batsmen.
The fact that Du Plessis gutsed it out for more than five hours and 216 balls for his 86 in the second test against England – a fine effort that disappeared in the dazzle cast by the double century and century scored by Hashim Amla and Temba Bavuma – could mean he is close to turning the corner.
Duminy’s part-time off-spin, left-handedness and superior experience, meanwhile, must be considered.
And then there’s the other thing, the elephant in the room that is the quota system.
Cricket SA’s announcement last week that they would formalise the minimum number of players of colour in the national team sank into the psyche of certain sectors of the game in this country.
An article in Rapport at the weekend, which claimed that there would in future be room for no more than five white players in the SA side, brought their feelings to the surface.
Les Fuhri, a former opening Border opening batsmen, summed them up on social media: “It is time for a breakaway, and protests at and from all grounds, schools, clubs and provincial level. Stop playing altogether.
“All sponsors to withdraw funding. If all players feel that passionate about it then, like in the ‘70s, show the politicians the true power of sport.
“But we are not that united are we? We are too spineless and as long as the cheque is in the post no-one really gives a shite.”
You can argue with Fuhri about all that. For instance, how come after 25 years of so-called unity a team that represents a nation in which most people are black, and in which most people who play and follow cricket are black, is not nearly black enough?
Fuhri, a tall, blond, utterly orthodox presence at the crease, played 17 first-class matches between 1986 and 1995. He scored 813 runs at 25.40 with one century and three 50s.
If stats were all that mattered we shouldn’t give his opinion much thought. However, as we know from years of watching players like Du Plessis and Duminy, the game is about much more than numbers.
It is, after everything, about the people who love it and live it. People like Fuhri, who will have divergent views on everything from beer and cars to religion and politics.
But they all earned the respect that should come from being part of cricket. They are all its custodians.
If the game is to move forward in SA, it is going to have to take most of them with it.