TELFORD VICE, Johannesburg
WILL South Africa release all four horsemen of the pace apocalypse they harbour in their squad in the third test against Sri Lanka at the Wanderers on Thursday, or might Keshav Maharaj get a look in?
The fact that groundsman Bethuel Buthelezi has had to prepare the pitch under a tent because of days of rain in Johannesburg only adds to the uncertainty of which XI to send into the fray.
On South Africa’s side is that they have already won the series, so they can afford to experiment.
They’ll have to, what with Kyle Abbott having flown the coop on a Kolpak deal and destroying the crack unit he formed with Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada.
The prime candidate to replace Abbott, Wayne Parnell, is more attacking, as is the uncapped Duanne Olivier.
But it’s not inconceivable that both will play on what is likely to be a lively surface and against a Lankan batting line-up that, as dismal as they were in the first two tests, are likely to be even less convincing this time.
“It’s difficult to say at the moment because there has been a lot of rain around,” South Africa’s bowling coach, Charl Langeveldt, told reporters in Johannesburg on Monday when he was asked whether an all-seam attack was a serious option.
“The groundsman says there is a lot of grass on the wicket but the weather could change and at the last minute he could take the grass off.
“But we’re not scared in going in with a spinner.
“I think we’re blessed in that sense where we can play four seamers and we can play the spinner.”
The pitches at St George’s Park and Newlands for the first two tests were prepared specifically to nullify spin, or a particular slow bowler in Rangana Herath.
But Maharaj coped impressively in the unhelpful environment, bowling admirably defensively and contributing with the bat and in the field.
Langeveldt made a case for retaining the left-armer at the Wanderers.
“Keshav is economical – he does hold up an end and that’s key for us,” he said.
“When we were playing well in Australia (where South Africa won the test series 2-1 in November) we were holding up both ends and it gave ‘KG’ (Kagiso Rabada) the freedom to attack the stumps more.”
Parnell, who took six wickets and scored a matchwinning century for the Cobras in a first-class match against the Lions in Oudtshoorn at the weekend, seems set to win his fifth cap and his first in the format since March 2014.
Consistency will be what Parnell supporters will look for – the lack of it is all that has stood in his way of more regular gametime at the highest level.
“I spoke to him long and hard,” Langeveldt said.
“Me and Paul (Adams, the Cobras’ former coach) worked closely with him to try and get that consistency going for him again.
“It paid dividends for him in the first innings (against the Lions, when he took 4/26), I think in the second innings his economy (2.57 runs to the over) was good as well.
“That’s the key in international cricket; if you can keep the runs down.”
What had Parnell done to address his challenges?
“It was more of a technical thing that we had to work on, and he rectified that by working hard in the nets with Paul,” Langeveldt said.
“They sent me videos and we spoke back and forth.
“We’ve worked on it the last couple of months.
“When he was with us in the international squad I saw that he was more consistent.”