Making sense of South Africa's SA20-ravaged Test squad

Neil Brand will lead South Africa in New Zealand
Neil Brand will lead South Africa in New Zealand ©Getty

Only two members of the men's South Africa XI who thrashed India by an innings inside three days in Centurion this week have been named in the squad to play two Tests in New Zealand from February 4 to 13. Half of the chosen 14 are uncapped, including the captain, Neil Brand.

The other seven hold 50 caps between them, or 300 fewer than South Africa's squad took into the Centurion Test. And fewer than each of Temba Bavuma, Dean Elgar or Kagiso Rabada, who all played in Centurion. The most experienced member of the touring party for New Zealand is Duanne Olivier, who has played 15 Tests.

Shukri Conrad's resources for the series have been ravaged by the SA20, which runs from January 10 to February 10. South Africa's players are contractually bound, in terms of the agreement between CSA and the SA20, to prioritise the tournament ahead of international commitments.

The latest blow to the South Africans' chances of delivering a competitive performance in New Zealand came minutes before the squad was announced on Saturday, when Durban's Super Giants announced that they had signed Tony de Zorzi - who had been expected to replace Dean Elgar. The second Test against India at Newlands, which starts on Wednesday, will be Elgar's last.

The dire situation has been forced by the vulnerable and unstable economics of cricket in South Africa. Outside of tours by the big three - particularly India - and ICC disbursements, little revenue reaches CSA. The first edition of the SA20 in January and February this year unexpectedly turned a profit, USD1.9-million of which went to CSA as the tournament's majority shareholders.

Consequently the SA20 has been held up as a potential saviour for the cricket industry in South Africa, which is floundering along with the wider economy in a country hit hard by poverty, corruption and failing infrastructure.

But the tournament is also in danger of being cast as a villain in the ongoing cannibalisation of South African cricket. Some will consider it as damaging to the national cause as the now abolished Kolpak system and the talent drain to other countries.

Less than 48 hours after their team had outplayed and humbled India in all departments, with Elgar scoring an epic century and Rabada ripping through the batting order to take five wickets, South Africans were reminded that money matters more than what happens on the field.

To lighten that dark thought, they might try to learn more about some of the players who will fly the flag in New Zealand. They will know about David Bedingham and Keegan Petersen, who played at Centurion, and no doubt they remember Olivier, Khaya Zondo, Zubayr Hamza, Dane Paterson and Dane Piedt. But who, for instance, might keep wicket? The answer is Clyde Fortuin, who has done so in 67 of his 74 first-class matches.

What has Brand done to be named captain? Lead teams in 18 of his 51 first-class games, including three for South Africa A against their West Indies counterparts in Benoni, East London and Bloemfontein in the past not quite five weeks.

Brand, an opener, scored 104 and 62 in six innings but was dismissed in single figures four times. More importantly, his team won the series 2-1. Petersen and Hamza also made centuries in the rubber, and Piedt took 15 wickets at an average of 14.80 and Paterson 11 at 15.63.

Famously, South Africa's elite schools produce exponentially more quality cricketers than could ever find places in the national teams. That is the chief reason many have sought to further their careers in other countries. Some will see Saturday's squad announcement as the chickens of this dynamic coming home to roost, others that they are indeed going to roost - in New Zealand.



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