Injuries and comebacks coinciding with some top-performances from fringe bowlers have posed a conundrum for South Africa as they decide on the line-up for the first Test against India, scheduled to start on January 5 in Cape Town.
Morne Morkel and Andile Phehlukwayo have already presented a strong case for themselves with starring roles in the historic four-day Test against Zimbabwe while the incumbent Kagiso Rabada is more than likely to be the first name on the team sheet when the team-management decides the bowling lineup. While there is no denying that the Proteas will love the luxury of having a full-strength bowling lineup to choose from, their lineup for the first Test is far from being finalised.
Morkel has been the standout bowler for the Proteas in recent times, but he looks the most likely to miss out if the hosts decide to include comeback man Dale Steyn in the playing eleven for the series-opener. South Africa will likely stick to a frontline attack of three seamers and a spinner in Cape Town. Keshav Maharaj will take care of the spin department while Kagiso Rabada, the highest wicket-taker for South Africa in 2017 and second-highest overall, and Vernon Philander, one of the best in the world on seaming pitches, are more than likely to be included in the playing eleven.
It leaves the selectors to choose one from Steyn, Morkel and Phehlukwayo. Well, the least experienced and the youngest of the three – Phehlukwayo looks the least likely to get the nod. The scenario, however, will take a big turn if Temba Bavuma makes way for AB de Villiers. The racial quota makes it mandatory for the side to have at least six black players, of which two must be black Africans. The six coloured players who represented South Africa in their last Test against Zimbabwe were – Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander, Andile Phehlukwayo and Keshav Maharaj. Now if South Africa decides to include de Villiers in the playing then Bavuma looks the most likely to make way for him, making it tough for the team management to leave out Phehlukwayo in a bid to include one between Morkel and Steyn.
But at the same time, the Proteas think tank would be tempted to include one of the two experienced campaigners in the playing side against the side which has one of the best batting lineups in the world at the moment. Moreover, both the bowlers have enjoyed success against India which might compel the team-management to include one of them in the playing eleven for at least the first Test.Well, it will be interesting to see whether South Africa opts for Morkel, who recently took a five-wicket haul against Zimbabwe or Steyn, who is short on match practice and is yet to play a Test since recovering from the long-term shoulder injury.