South Africa's cricketers leave the field after defeat in the fourth Twenty20 international cricket match between South Africa and Pakistan at SuperSport Park in Centurion on April 16, 2021. (Photo by PHILL MAGAKOE / AFP) (Photo by PHILL MAGAKOE/AFP via Getty Images)
Nine of the 17 members of the South African national team, who were selected for two tests in Christchurch next month, were absent from the final round of one of the country’s top matches. The four, including captain Dean Elgar and spearhead Kagiso Rabada, haven’t been in the field since the end of the test series against India almost three weeks ago.
Concerns about the balance of the work-life bubble of international players are affecting the availability of games in the lower layers. However, the steps are taken to keep all these balls in the air also create opportunities for team members who use striped shirts as substitutes.
Except for the strange field look, players like Salel Erwee who spent all three tests against India on the bench and weren’t on the ODI team. So he might have had to remind himself which end of his bat to hold when he opened for the Dolphins against the Warriors at Kingsmead on Friday the first time he had taken guard in a match since December 9; a break of exactly 50 days. Happily, Erwee picked up where he left off. Having scored 75 and 97 against India A in Bloemfontein in December, he made 93 in his only innings against the Warriors. That will add to the argument for him to replace Aiden Markram in Test XI.
Markram continued his hitting streak in India, allowing 76 runs in six innings. How could he prove himself in Titans against Knights last week? We will never know. He was one of six players who took the test as well as an ODI lover against the Indians, so no doubt he didn’t play. He made just 56 runs in three trips to the white ball crease, retaining his place largely because his part-time off-spin was considered a viable bowling option. Markram took 2/85 in 17 overs. That’s a decent economy rate of 5.00, but stopping an out-of-form frontline batter from fixing his game in order to deploy him as a bowler doesn’t add up.
Especially as Markram has few opportunities to sort himself out away from the glare of the international spotlight. He hasn’t appeared for his domestic team since March last year, when he made 100 and 64 against the Lions’ all international attack Kagiso Rabada, Beuran Hendricks, Lutho Sipamla, and Bjorn Fortuin at the Wanderers. Overall, Markram had nearly eight and a half hours in that match and made 326 deliveries.
Along with Erwee, Simon Harmer, Wiaan Mulder, Duanne Olivier, Ryan Rickelton, Sipamla, Glenton Stuurman, and Kyle Verreynne, all the players from the New Zealand test team played in their respective regions last week. Harmer won 4/70 and 4/33 for the Titans. Mulder scored 24 points and 0 points against Western Province in Newlands, taking 1/35 and 0/38. Sipamla won 1/47 and 0/28 in the same game, which was also a milestone for Rickelton, pitching 90 and 102 innings without striking out. Sturman of the Warriors was 5/97 and Verreynne was 86 at WP.
So, it’s a mixed story. But these players will go to New Zealand with a clear idea of what form they are. More than Markram, and even better than Elgar, Keshav Maharaj, Keegan Petersen, and Rabad, who did not give up after trial on India.
Cricket does not happen in a vacuum, and the system of international games is particularly sensitive to instability due to the arrival and departure of players. This is understandable and expected. However, in this case, too, based on the franchise model of the last 17 seasons, it is a pity that the return of the domestic senior circuit to the provinces this summer has sparked a fierce battle worthy of respect.
With only the final round of First Class matches remaining, the Lions, Warriors, and Titans are 6.3 points away from the top of the First Division. With 16 points, 6 ties, and batting and bowling bonus points, all three teams have real hopes of winning.