The South Africa A tour to England has exposed a worrying lack of depth in batting in the domestic game.
While Heino Kuhn’s call-up to the Proteas team is well-deserved on the back of a solid domestic season, at 33 he is hardly a long-term solution to South Africa’s opener conundrum.
Kuhn replaces Stephen Cook who at 34 seems unlikely to get another opportunity for the Proteas, having debuted against England as recently as January 2016.
While the willingness to pick form players like Kuhn despite his advanced years may serve the Proteas well in England it also reveals the conveyor belt of talent that has been disrupted and it’s not just in the troublesome opening position.
The Proteas will be aware that several top players could call time on their careers in the near future with the Test top five made up almost entirely of players over 30 with Dean Elgar (30), Hashim Amla (34), Faf du Plessis (32) and JP Duminy (33) the names that are pencilled into the XI first.
Of course there are young players coming through.
Titans opener Aiden Markram has been earmarked as the future partner to Dean Elgar but he remains a very raw talent and the Proteas will be wary of rushing him into the pressure cooker of Test cricket too soon, though he has been named in the Test squad for the upcoming series.
Knights skipper Theunis de Bruyn has been racking up the runs in domestic cricket but he looked out of his depth when asked to open in the third Test against New Zealand.
Khaya Zondo has recovered from a difficult start to his first class career to finish the Sunfoil series as the Dolphins second highest run-scorer. Zondo has his critics and will need to maintain a level of performance higher than some of his contemporaries due to his inauspicious start to first-class cricket but he appears to be a ready-made replacement for Duminy with his part-time off-spin sweetening the deal.
Wicketkeeper batsman Heinrich Klaasen was called into the Proteas squad as cover for Quinton de Kock and could help to prolong the prolific left-hander’s career by taking over the glovework in Test cricket and allowing QDK to move up the order, where he (De Kock) has already deputized with aplomb after an injury to Dean Elgar during the August 2016 series against New Zealand.
The leading runscorer in the Sunfoil Series last season, Colin Ackermann, has abandoned his international prospects to play county cricket in England, as have Stiaan van Zyl and Rilee Rossouw.
The second highest runscorer in South Africa’s premier first class competition is a man who has never quite fulfilled his potential and at 32 Vaughan van Jaarsveld is unlikely to get another go at international cricket.
Prospects Dominic Hendricks, Rudi Second and Rassie van der Dussen are approaching a crossroads in their careers at the age of 26, 27 and 28 respectively and have a massive 2017/18 season ahead of them to prove their credentials and push for a place.
The presence of two competitions with first class status, the Sunfoil Series for franchises and the amateur Sunfoil Cup, mean that averages don’t tell the full story with some better players struggling in franchise cricket, coming in and out of teams without a fixed position in the batting order, while lesser batsman make hay in the Sunfoil Cup.
Markram makes perhaps the strongest case of the under-25s and has been rewarded with a Test call up while Janneman Malan of North West and the Lions continues to develop into a fine young player and enjoyed a great Africa T20 with the Dragons.
All the conjecture in the world will not produce Test batsmen though and the Proteas desperately need to start exposing young players to Test cricket or face a major batting crisis within the next four years. The A tour to England was underwhelming and failed to answer any tough questions.
With an inbound Australia A tour coming up many of these young players will be presented with another chance to prove their mettle and CSA needs to ensure the development of these players is prioritized and the talent drain to county cricket is arrested to protect the long-term future of Test cricket in the country.