Barend Prins contemplates the many precarious variables the Proteas will face in replacing Jacques Kallis, who effectively fulfilled the role of two players for almost 20 years.
South Africa will find out during the upcoming Test series against Australia that replacing Jacques Kallis will be an even more difficult task than the Aussies faced when Ricky Ponting retired.
Although the Aussies would argue, correctly in many respects, that replacing a batsman of that quality is impossible, at least 'like for like' replacements were readily available – a batsman comes in for another batsman.
In the case of Kallis, no such replacement exists. Apart from the great Sir Garfield Sobers, to whom Kallis is often compared, no other batsman in the history of the game has ended his Test career with a 50-plus batting average and more than 200 Test wickets at an average in the low 30s.
So how are the Proteas likely to compensate for the loss of effectively two players? There are quite a few different directions the selectors could take…
<b>The 'Like For Like' Replacement</b><br>Although it comes as no surprise that there isn't another player currently playing domestic cricket in South Africa (or anywhere in the world, for that matter) of the same class as Kallis, Ryan McLaren has acquitted himself well in the limited-overs squad and is the obvious choice if CSA wish to go the all-rounder route. The 30-year-old McLaren has played in one Test previously – against England at the Wanderers in 2010 – during which he claimed a solitary scalp and made an unbeaten 33, as South Africa won by an innings and 74 runs.
McLaren is a bowler first and would be an excellent option as a fourth seamer, although his batting is obviously not comparable with someone who has made 44 Test centuries. Nevertheless, a first-class average of over 30 – including three centuries – and a highest score of 140 is decent enough.
<b>Rewarding The Next In Line</b><br>CSA have made no secret over the last few years that a definite pecking order exists in terms selection for the Test side, and Dean Elgar is currently the batsman who gets an opportunity whenever an opening arises. He made his debut against Australia in Perth last year, after JP Duminy was injured during the previous Test and deputised for him for six matches. He then got another opportunity against Pakistan in Dubai last month after Hashim Amla was unavailable for the second Test in the UAE following the birth of his child.
An opening batsman by trade, Elgar has featured exclusively in the lower middle-order for the Proteas Test team, making 215 runs at an average just shy of 31 in the nine innings he's batted in – an unbeaten 103 against New Zealand being the highlight of a so-far underwhelming international career. The problem South Africa face if someone like Elgar comes in for Kallis is two-fold. Firstly, he clearly isn't as accomplished a batsman (but then who is?) and secondly, it weakens the bowling line-up significantly.
<b>Give Youth A Chance</b><br>Following his three consecutive centuries in the recent ODI series against India – and one against Pakistan the month before – it has become a question of 'when' rather than 'if' Quinton de Kock will play Test cricket for South Africa. The left-handed wicketkeeper-batsman has been earmarked for greatness ever since he made his senior debut in 2009 as a 17-year-old and although some work still needs to be done on his glovework, his coach at the Lions, Geoffrey Toyana, believes the he is ready for Test cricket as a specialist batsman. A first-class average of just about 52 is an excellent one, although a large portion of his 1,503 runs have been scored in the second tier of South Africa's domestic competition.
While the Australia series might be too soon to have the youngster behind the stumps as well, his addition would allow AB de Villiers to focus on filling the hole at number four in the batting line-up Kallis' departure will leave.
<b>The Change In Approach</b><br>With Kallis in the side, South Africa were seldom tempted into fielding a fourth fast bowler at the expense of a specialist spinner. However, with Imran Tahir's continued struggles in the Test arena and Robin Peterson's general innocuousness, that might soon change. In South Africa at least, a four-prong pace attack with Duminy adding variation with his off-spinners might be the way to go, which would allow another specialist batsman to come into the side.
It is certainly not a strategy that would be successful everywhere, but bringing in someone like Wayne Parnell at the expense of Peterson or Tahir would add a different dimension to the already excellent pace attack without weakening the batting further.
<b>The Way Forward</b><br>For the Australia series and near future, McLaren's inclusion seems the most likely. His ODI exploits suggest he wouldn't be out of place in the Test arena and there are worse number seven batsman playing international cricket. Nevertheless, Elgar and de Kock would remain in the selectors' minds, particularly in the former's case if a berth at the top of the order opens up.
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