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New Zealand debacle raises doubts over Proteas Test side’s chances against West Indies

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Dane Paterson bowled his heart out, but it required just an extra bit of gas to be really penetrative. And that virtually sums up the entire Proteas seam attack with none of them likely to be called upon again any time soon.

South Africa’s David Bedingham bats during day four of the first cricket Test match between New Zealand and South Africa at the Bay Oval in Mount Maunganui on February 7, 2024. Picture: MICHAEL BRADLEY, AFP

The Proteas don’t gather as a Test team again until August.

That’s a five-month break between matches, and even longer for most others who played in the SA20 while an understrength Proteas side toured New Zealand.

How will Shukri Conrad then put his side together for the two-Test series in the Caribbean?

On the positive side of things, he will hope that two of his premier fast bowlers, Anrich Nortje and Gerald Coetzee, would have recovered from injury by then. Nortje has not played since suffering a back spasm in the third ODI against Australia in October. It ruled him out of last year’s World Cup in India and the subsequent incoming India tour and SA20 over the home summer.

There is no official word yet on Nortje’s progress, and it is a situation Conrad will be monitoring closely. Coincidentally, it was Nortje’s absence at the World Cup that opened the door for Coetzee, with the young tearaway finishing as the Proteas’ leading wicket taker at the tournament despite not playing all the matches.

Unfortunately, Coetzee suffered a pelvic injury in the first Test against India at SuperSport Park in December and has not played since.

Coetzee missed the Joburg Super Kings’ entire SA20 campaign, but “The Karate Kid” has been signed up by Mumbai Indians for this season’s Indian Premier League so it will be interesting to see whether he has recovered by then.

Conrad certainly discovered the value of pure pace – or rather the lack thereof – on the tour of New Zealand with none of his seamers being able to threaten the 135km/h mark consistently.

Dane Paterson bowled his heart out, and troubled all the Black Caps batters with his ability to move the ball both ways off the seam, but it required just an extra bit of gas to be really penetrative. And that virtually sums up the entire Proteas seam attack Down Under with none of them likely to be called upon again any time soon.

Duanne Olivier has most likely played his last Test for the Proteas as he bore no resemblance to the player who was terrorising prior to his English County Championship stint.

The only likely candidate from the bowling contingent to be considered for the trip to the Caribbean could be off-spinner Dane Piedt. The 33-year-old displayed all his old hunger and competitiveness in the second Test in Hamilton to complete his best Test match figures.

The pitches in the West Indies are likely going to require possibly two spinners in the starting XI and even three in the overall travelling squad.

Keshav Maharaj remains undoubtedly the Proteas’ No.1 spinner, but Piedt’s sparkling comeback performance after five years in the wilderness could likely have pushed him ahead of his long-time rival Simon Harmer. It’s just a short flight from the US (where he is based) to the West Indies, so Piedt may just have to keep his passport ready once again.

On the batting front, it was less clear cut with Conrad having had high hopes for the likes of Neil Brand, Raynard van Tonder, Zubayr Hamza, Keegan Petersen and, of course, David Bedingham.

It was only the latter who utilised his opportunities to show he should be a regular starter in the Test XI. Bedingham has certainly been one of the finds of the South African 2023/24 international summer.

The aforementioned quartet, however, did not stake enough of a claim to warrant any guarantees and will face plenty of competition from a string of young batters such as Tristan Stubbs, Ryan Rickelton and Matthew Breetzke.

The only possible consolation for Brand is that there is a vacant opening slot left by the retired Dean Elgar, but Conrad could decide to promote Tony de Zorzi to face the new ball.

These are all the permutations facing Conrad, but fortunately he has plenty of time to ponder all the possible scenarios.

@ZaahierAdams

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