Durban – Never one to give away too much in terms of team selection on the eve of a Test match, Proteas skipper Faf du Plessis was at it once again ahead of Wednesday’s clash against a struggling Sri Lanka at Kingsmead.
One certainty is that Keshav Maharaj will play.
The 29-year-old, considered by most critics to be South Africa’s most promising Test spinners unearthed since readmission, was left out of the final two Tests against Pakistan at Newlands and the Wanderers earlier in the year.
That decision hinged on the emergence of Duanne Olivier, who had bullied the Pakistani batsmen into submission in the Boxing Day Test in a performance that ultimately saw Maharaj overlooked for Cape Town.
With coach Ottis Gibson openly keen on backing his fast bowlers and with South African conditions over the last 18 months lending themselves to that philosophy, Maharaj’s role in the Test side, particularly at home, had become unclear.
Du Plessis confirmed on Tuesday, however, that the Kingsmead strip was likely to be slower and that there would “always” be a place for a spinner in Durban.
Maharaj will play, and the decision instead centres around how to accommodate his return.
One option is to elevate Quinton de Kock to No 6 at the expense of both Zubayr Hamza and Theunis de Bruyn
It is a move that could see Maharaj and Olivier both crack the nod alongside a bowling attack that also includes Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander.
Should the hosts go that route, Sri Lanka’s frail batting line-up will have an already difficult task made even more daunting.
But the more surprising selection, and one that Du Plessis hinted rather strongly at, would be to hand 20-year-old Wiaan Mulder a Test debut.
Mulder would operate as a genuine allrounder, filling the role of the No 7 as well as the fourth seamer.
“There is benefit in both and there have been lots of discussions that have taken place,” Du Plessis said of Mulder’s possible selection, adding that if he didn’t play he would be released to join up with the Highveld Lions to play One Day Cup cricket.
“Wiaan obviously hasn’t played a lot of Test cricket but our thinking as a team is that we don’t want to have to choose between having four seamers or a spinner. We would like to have both options and that only really comes into play when we have an allrounder at No 7.
“That’s our thinking moving forward, but whether or not it happens tomorrow, I don’t know.”
If Mulder does not play then Philander looks will probably bat at No 7, but if he does then selections become even more complicated.
Listening to Du Plessis speak on Tuesday, Mulder’s inclusion would likely see one of Steyn or Olivier omitted.
Olivier, man of the series against Pakistan with 24 wickets over the three Test matches, is becoming an increasingly difficult man to sideline.
“It becomes very hard and it is a tricky decision,” Du Plessis said.
“Normally you would say that there is no comparison and that Dale Steyn is Dale Steyn, but now Duanne has bowled so well that you have to look at what is best for you team at the moment.
“If you can’t make a decision and you feel that both of them would add so much value to your team, then obviously you have to leave an allrounder or a batter out.”
Play on Wednesday starts at 10:00.