South Africa have named six uncapped players in their 17-man Test squad for the England series following the retirement of hall-of-fame players Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn.
England have drawn one and won two of the four series they have played in South Africa since readmission and are expected, despite their vulnerability away from home, to retain the Basil D'Oliveira Trophy against an inexperienced side, especially after years of administrative and financial turmoil.
But with a new head coach - the granite-nosed Mark Boucher - and Graeme Smith in as acting director of cricket, the revolution has begun. Here are the men they have entrusted to restore the Proteas' pride.
Faf du Plessis (capt)
Tests 61; Hundreds 9; Avg 41.66; Tests v Eng 6; Avg 27.09
A fine captain who has led the side with genuine shrewdness and ingenuity despite losing so many key players to retirement or lucrative Kolpak exile, Du Plessis’s record illustrates that astute leadership can only mitigate against rather than offset a deficiency of experience and consistency. Too often required to do a salvage job to give free rein to his attacking instincts as a middle-order batsman, Du Plessis, an IPL pin-up, is at his best on fast, bouncy pitches. Counter-intuitively he is predominantly a front-foot player with a blistering cover drive but like the best South African biffers, he possesses brutal cuts and pull shots.
Tests 39; Hundreds 1; Avg 31.24; Tests v Eng 8; Avg 38.84
Made his maiden Test century at Newlands on England’s last tour in 2016, but has now gone 32 Tests without reaching three-figures again despite passing 50 11 times. Seems to have it all - sound technique, the short batsman’s advantages against extreme pace, solid defence and a range of attacking strokes. And yet he has not eradicated a tendency to give it away with a rash shot having knuckled down to lay the foundations of a big innings. His talent is undeniable but his temperament is long overdue matching it. Ruled out of the first Test due to a hip injury.
Quinton de Kock
Tests 43; Hundreds 5; Avg 38.11; Tests v Eng 6; Avg 36.44
Ct 168; St 11
Elegant wicket-keeper batsman who fulfils the primary all-rounder’s role at No6. Made a terrific hundred at Vizag in October and should benefit more than most from the appointment of Mark Boucher, who wore the gloves in 147 Tests, as head coach. A wind-up merchant with uncommon flair for needling opponents, De Kock’s timing and range of shots make him the kind of batsman who can exploit tiring attacks with surgical precision if, and it’s a big if, South Africa’s top order can establish a platform.
Tests 59; Hundreds 12; Avg 39.18; Tests v Eng 8; Avg 41.07
Wickets 15; 5WI 0; Avg 43.53; Avg v Eng 70
Struck a sickening blow on the badge of his helmet by India’s Umesh Yadav in his last Test in October and forced out of the match with concussion, the nuggety opener had demonstrated his indispensability to the team with his gutsy 160 in the first Test of the tour. If, as the cliche has it, there are two types of left-handed batsmen, the godlike geniuses such as David Gower and the cussed, bottom-hand grinders like Allan Border, Elgar falls very much in the latter category, even defying fractured fingers to bat for his country through the pain. Will have celebrated the absence of Moeen Ali - England’s off-spinner has dismissed him five times in eight Tests. Also bowls skiddy left-arm spin.
Tests 0; F/C matches 85; Avg 9.69
F/C wickets 291; Avg 23.63
Formerly an out-and-out pace bowler, the left-armer first played for South Africa A six years ago. Now more of a swing bowler whose ability to manipulate the ball both ways earned him a call-up to last year’s World Cup squad. He was selected twice in the tournament - in the washout against West Indies and opened the bowling without reward on a Cardiff turner against Afghanistan - but has most recently impressed in T20 internationals, taking 10 wickets at 9.80 since his recall in February. A genuine No11 batsman, his best chance of making his Test debut rests on Vernon Philander’s fragile fitness.
Tests 27; Hundreds 0; Avg 15.25; Tests v Eng 4; Avg 13.83
Wickets 100; 5WI 5; Avg 31.88; Wkts v Eng 17; Avg 30.35
Proved himself a match-winning spinner for Yorkshire in five Championship matches last season, taking 38 wickets at 18.92. Bowls with excellent flight and control, his drift and dip foxed England at Trent Bridge in 2017 when he took three for 21 and three for 42 in South Africa’s enormous 340-run victory and took nine Australian wickets at Kingsmead on their ‘Sandpaper tour’ six months later. No Test in Durban this time but Port Elizabeth should favour him - he has taken 12 wickets there in the past. Once a doughty No9, his batting has significantly improved and he is capable both of holding up an end and counter-attacking at No8.
Tests 0; F/C matches 148; Hundreds 32; Avg 45.16
F/C wickets 20; Avg 22.70
Cape Cobras and Western Province opening batsman who has waited more than a decade for senior international cricket after his early prominence at schoolboy, Under-19 and ‘A’ level. Made more than 1,000 first-class runs in 2017 and 2018 and hit three centuries in accruing 821 runs at 51.31 last season. He admits his long wait has occasionally left him in ‘a dark place’ as he watched his contemporaries step up but should Aiden Markram’s injured wrist keep troubling him, his debut should come at last. His biggest claim to fame outside South Africa is that he lured Virat Kohli to his doom in the 2008 Under-19 World Cup final with his very occasional dobbers.
Tests 19; Hundreds 4; Avg 40.05; Tests v Eng 0
Opening batsman and protege of the new coach, Mark Boucher. A doubt for the first Test after injuring his wrist punching something hard in the dressing room when he bagged a pair during the Second Test against India in Pune in October. Markram was in the squad for the tour of England in 2017 but did not make his debut until they returned home. A former Under-19 and South Africa A captain, made two centuries and a 97 in his first three Tests and went on to hit 143 at Kingsmead and 152 at the Wanderers in the fractious, victorious series against Australia in March 2018. Very forceful through point and extra-cover.
Tests 2; Hundreds 0; Avg 25.75; Tests v Eng 0
Right-handed middle-order batsman who became South Africa’s 100th Test player since readmission in 1992 when he made his debut against Pakistan last January. Top-scored with 62 in the rout by India in October’s third Test at Ranchi, impressing with the soundness of his front-foot technique and busy approach. An alumnus of the Rondebosch Boys’ High School - alma mater of Test-match grinders Gary Kirsten and Jonathan Trott - Hamza made his breakthrough in 2017-18 with more than 1200 first-class runs and has been earmarked for a place in the Test side ever since. Hashim Amla’s retirement has left a void at No3, one that Hamza and Van der Dussen are vying to fill long-term.
Tests 2; Hundreds 0; Avg 6; Tests v Eng 0
Wickets 1; 5WI 0; Avg 179
A broken thumb cost him his place in the World Cup squad but the fast bowler, whose pace has been lionised by Dale Steyn, recovered to make his Test debut in India three months ago. His 90mph spells in the Mzansi Super League earned him an international call-up after years struggling to combat the featherbed pitches of East London and PE. His figures in India were unflattering but the way he set up Virat Kohli with two that moved away followed by the inswinger to trap him leg-before emphasised his rich potential.
Tests 0; F/C matches 100; Avg 12.44
F/C wickets 347; 5WI 13; 24.03
Took four for 32 at Cardiff in a T20 international in 2017, taking two wickets with successive deliveries twice. Bowls brisk right-arm fast medium, relying on accuracy and a fullish length rather than extravagant movement. Bowled superbly for Cape Cobras in the four-day franchise series in October, he is, like most of the uncapped call-ups, a physically robust veteran who has waited years for his chance with the Test side.
Tests 4; Hundreds 0; Avg 9.50; Tests v Eng 0
Wickets 11; 5WI 0; Avg 13.36
South Africa’s white-ball death bowler who has played 52 ODIs and 23 T20s but has found his opportunities limited in Tests. Bowls right-arm fast medium with a bustling approach to the wicket, diddling batsmen with his movement rather than pace. Dismissed both England openers when playing for South Africa A last week but is unlikely to play unless the selectors opt for a five-man attack and he earns a spot as fourth seamer. Took two for 25 against India at The Wanderers last year in his last Test to date.
Tests 60; Hundreds 0; Avg 24.16; Tests v Eng 6; Avg 36.50
Wickets 216; 5WI 13; Avg 22.16; Wkts v Eng 22; Avg 23.50
Terrific swing bowler, bowling at deceptively low pace and hooping it around to torment right-handers and left-handers alike down opposite corridors. Had Keaton Jennings on toast during South Africa’s tour of England two years ago and bowls particularly well at Johannesburg where he betters his stellar career average with 39 wickets at 15.69. A very useful lower-order batsman, he made half-centuries at Lord’s and Trent Bridge in 2017. Missed 15 Tests with injury over the past eight years and the entire series on England’s last tour. South Africa will be praying his ankle and hamstrings hold up.
Tests 0; F/C matches 55; Hundreds 5; Avg 39.05
F/C wickets 162; 5WI 6; Avg 23.87
All-rounder who could have a shot at fulfilling the role performed by the irreplaceable Jacques Kallis for 18 years. Bowls tidy outswingers since knee surgery forced him to temper what had once been express pace and took three for 25 against Sri Lanka at Chester-le-Street and two for 27 against Australia at Old Trafford during the World Cup. Had not hit a first-class century for three years until he scored 111 for Northants against Worcestershire in the Championship at Wantage Road in his only red-ball game for the county last August.
Tests 40; Hundreds 0; Avg 11.38 Tests v Eng 6; Avg 14.11
Wickets 183; 5WI 9; Avg 22.50; Wkts v Eng 38; Avg 24.65
Currently the No2-ranked Test bowler in the world having ended last year in first place. The right-arm quick leads the attack, bowling with searing pace and verve. Has already taken 10 wickets in a match four times, including 13 for 144 at Centurion on England’s last tour, while his five for 96 and six for 54 against Australia at Port Elizabeth in 2018 turned the tide of the series in the home side’s favour. His sensational record is even better in South Africa where he has taken 127 of his wickets at the phenomenal strike rate of one every 32.7 balls. Opponents have successfully wound him up in the past - he was banned for giving Ben Stokes a send-off in 2017 - and he has not backed down from physical confrontation but his bowling has not suffered from an occasional excess of pugnacity.
Tests 0; F/C matches 110; Hundreds 17; avg: 44.75
Reserve wicket-keeper batsman who, remarkably, made 94 in each innings of South Africa A’s first ‘Test’ against India A last year and a counter-attacking 47 in the second. Would have toured India with the senior team last autumn but left the squad after being injured in practice. Has a sound defensive technique and could be considered, like Matthew Wade, as a specialist batsman at No6 if the top-order fails in the first couple of Tests.
Rassie van der Dussen
Tests 0; F/C matches 113; Hundreds 16; Avg 44.39
F/C wickets 4; Avg 54.50
The middle-order batsman had an excellent World Cup, making half-centuries against England, New Zealand and 95 in the victory over Australia at Old Trafford. Top-scored in domestic first-class cricket in 2017-18 and made an unbeaten 154 in the last round of first-class matches this season for Lions against Dolphins at the Wanderers. Plays fast-bowling well off the back foot, possesses a punishing cover drive and, as his popularity in the franchise leagues attest, exploits fielders’ legs with his quick running and range hitting.