Faf du Plessis has been included in South Africa’s T20 squad to play against Australia, after stepping down from captaincy on Monday morning. The team will be led by Quinton de Kock and also includes a return for Kagiso Rabada, who was rested for the limited-overs matches against England, and Anrich Nortje.
AB de Villiers was not named despite coach Mark Boucher’s indication that he will be considered for this year’s T20 World Cup. There was also no room for Reeza Hendricks, who did not play in the England series, Beuran Hendricks, or Sisanda Magala, who has yet to pass a fitness test since being part of the strength and conditioning camp last month. Uncapped batsman Pite van Biljon remains with the group, with a view to debuting in this series.
South Africa have stuck with the same core of players that lost 1-2 to England, where their bowling skills were under scrutiny. Boucher emphasised that the development of skills, such as delivering yorkers, are high on South Africa’s agenda and the Australia series will be an opportunity for Dale Steyn, Lungi Ngidi and Andile Phehlukwayo to do more work on that discipline. It is also a chance for the batsmen to bed into their roles, having pleased Boucher and independent selector Linda Zondi with their intent against England.
“The T20 series may not have been won but it was really pleasing to see our batting unit play so well,” Zondi said. “They showed a lot of aggression, particularly upfront, in every match which set a good foundation for the rest of the line-up to follow. The very exciting bursts of cricket that we were served up bode very well for the future, especially in the short term as we begin our hunt in earnest for the T20 World Cup squad.”
The form of the opening pair, Temba Bavuma and Quinton de Kock, was the highlight of the England series after they shared stands of 92, 48 and 84, but there is a chance they may not be together for the next three matches. Bavuma left the field with a right hamstring injury and will have an MRI scan to determine the extent of the damage. Depending on the seriousness of the injury, de Kock may have to be accompanied by another opening partner. With Reeza no longer in the squad, van Biljon, Rassie van der Dussen, Jon-Jon Smuts or even du Plessis could be tasked with that job.
While that may increase the load on de Kock, he has shown an ability to thrive with additional responsibility and has taken to captaincy with ease. Though de Kock has not been confirmed as the permanent T20 skipper, it appears to be only a matter of time, which means he will be opening the batting, keeping wicket and leading in both limited-overs formats. Rather than question the sustainability of the treble role, his opposite number Aaron Finch is in awe of it.
“He is someone who reads the game really well and loves getting around the team and encouraging and motivating. Your No.1 one job as an opening batter and wicket-keeper is to do your own job really well and once you do that, it’s easier to get everyone else on board and pulling in one direction,” Finch said. “The hardest thing as a leader is to be battling your own form. I went through this for a lot longer than I would have liked and to then try and drag other people with you when you know you are not going well yourself, its the hardest thing I found as a captain. The fact that he started really positively as an opening batter and as a wicket-keeper – he takes some unbelievable catches and does some brilliance behind the stumps. He is someone who naturally people would gravitate to and follow his direction if he keeps performing the way that he does.”
Finch followed the series against England – which boasted the highest run-rate for any three-match T20 series – closely and also had praise for the rest of the South African squad for taking each game to the final over. “For South Africa to have a changing side and come in and play so well right from the top order through to No.11 was great,” he said. “All the guys in the side had an impact on a game at various points. They are slowly starting to get to their best XI, especially with some older guys mixed in there with some real experience.”
South Africa’s most experienced T20 player is Steyn, who has played in 46 matches, and is now using the format to prove that pace is not the only effective way of dismissing batsmen. His slower balls and offcutters made regular appearances during the England series, where pace off the ball was key. Australia expect that to be the case in this series as well, and believe spin will play a role.
“It looked like the wickets are maybe on the slower side, spinning a little bit so that will have its challenges,” Finch said. “We’ve identified that as something that we need to get better at as a one-day and T20 team in particular: finding ways to score but be really proactive against spin and Shamsi has been bowling well.”
Apart from Shamsi, who is the frontline spinner in the squad, South Africa also have two left-arm spin options in Smuts and Bjorn Fortuin.
The first match in the series will be played in Johannesburg on Friday, followed by a move to the coast with games in Port Elizabeth on Sunday and Cape Town next Wednesday.
SA squad: Quinton de Kock. Temba Bavuma, Faf du Plessis, Rassie van der Dussen, David Miller, Pite van Biljon, Dwaine Pretorius, Andile Phehlukwayo, Jon-Jon Smuts, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Lungi Ngidi, Bjorn Fortuin, Anrich Nortje, Dale Steyn, Heinrich Klaasen