South Africa made it clear yesterday that they would prefer to field 12 men against England when the Test series begins. The probable absence of their star all-rounder, Jacques Kallis, has thrown their strategy into confusion which they show no immediate signs of resolving, except by picking more players.
Already behind in the one-day series and needing a win to finish level at 2-2 tomorrow, they named an enlarged squad of 15 yesterday, which includes four uncapped players, for the first Test in a fortnight. The reason was simple: without the man known as "Jakes", they do not quite know what to do or who to do it with. A team that would have taken five minutes to pick, in the words of coach Mickey Arthur, may now take head-scratching hours.
Mike Procter, South Africa's chairman of selectors, made no attempt to conceal the worth of a player who has scored 10,277 runs and taken 258 wickets. "Jacques Kallis is obviously a very big number in our Test side and providing cover for him requires more than one player," he said.
But one player will have to do, of course, when the final XI is concluded and it is this delicate balance that has created uncertainty with potential to affect the whole team. Without Kallis in the role of No 3 batsman, the blue riband position, and an effective fourth seamer, the selectors have a conundrum.
They can either pick four bowlers, six batsmen and a wicketkeeper, or opt for five of each plus the keeper, putting more pressure on Mark Boucher, or play a lesser all-rounder in Ryan McLaren who would be making his Test debut. "We have been looking at all-rounders for a month," said Arthur, doubtless discovering that there is only one Kallis. The six batsmen look the likeliest solution because they would be more likely to leave the first Test at Centurion with a draw and then regroup with their all-rounder back.
Kallis is out with a broken rib. He first felt soreness in the Twenty20 Champions League but tried to play through the injury before being finally ruled on the eve of this one-day series. Although South Africa have not officially given up hope of his inclusion in the first Test starting in a fortnight they will take no risk whatever on his fitness. They are clearly desperate that he plays in the rest of the series.
South Africa, Kallis and all, are preparing for the four-Test series with a training camp in the isolated university town of Potchefstroom. They have chosen to get away from it all after their preparations for the series against Australia last year were disrupted in Johannesburg.
Having returned from Australia with a 2-1 series win they were feted everywhere they went and failed to concentrate properly on the re-match. The upshot was a 2-1 series loss. Arthur said: "Everybody wanted a piece of the side." He is determined to avoid distractions this time.
All this is good news for England who continue to be extremely perky. They have a squad with a virtually clean bill of health and they are 2-1 ahead in a series they were confidently predicted to lose.
Winning the Ashes may have helped but with each day that passes there is reason to believe a new philosophy permeates these tourists. A side that is winning might always suggest this but as the wicketkeeper Matt Prior said yesterday a change had been instigated by the men at the top, coach Andy Flower and captain Andrew Strauss.
"Ever since the two Andys have taken over we've had to become very honest, honest with ourselves, with our team-mates, in the dressing room," he said. "If you can't be honest with your team-mates then you're struggling.
"I think that's the first thing we did, and did it very well, was say 'we are actually seventh in the world in one-day cricket' and that's black and white. Until you accept that instead of saying 'well we're seventh but we're actually better than that and we've just been a bit unlucky' then you don't move forward. We have now done that, accepted and are able to build from there. That's how we run it as the whole team." Tomorrow will tell how far they have come.
First Test: South Africa squad
South Africa squad to face England in the first Test, Wednesday 16 to Sunday 20 December, at Centurion: G C Smith (captain), H M Amla, M V Boucher (wkt), A B de Villiers, F de Wet, J P Duminy, P L Harris, J H Kallis, R McLaren, M Morkel, M Ntini, W D Parnell, A N Petersen, A G Prince, D W Steyn.
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Dilshan century gives Sri Lanka the edge in final Test
Tillakaratne Dilshan scored a century as Sri Lanka gained a slender edge on the first day of the third and final Test against India in Mumbai.
Dilshan's 109 was the centrepiece in a scorecard which also featured half-centuries from fellow opener Tharanga Paranavitana (53) and Angelo Mathews (86 not out) as the visitors, chasing a series-levelling win, closed on 366 for 8.
Harbhajan Singh, who found turn throughout, had threatened to wreck Sri Lanka's day, but the off-spinner had to be satisfied with four wickets. Dilshan traded his pyrotechnics for a more conservative approach early on and, having crossed the milestone of 1000 runs in a calendar year, fell to a poor decision, with Harbhajan the lucky bowler.