Pieter Malan backed for Cape Town debut despite transformation pressures

Pieter Malan is set to become South Africa’s eighth Test debutant in five matches during the New Year’s Test. Malan will replace the injured Aiden Markram, who has been ruled out of the series with a fractured finger, according to South Africa’s head coach Mark Boucher, who is on the selection panel.

Boucher, assistant coach Enoch Nkwe, captain Faf du Plessis and independent selector Linda Zondi pick the starting XI and, speaking in the wake of South Africa’s 107-run win in the first Test at Centurion, Boucher indicated Malan is the favourite to step into Markram’s role in Cape Town next week.

“Pieter Malan was selected in the squad. For us to go messing around with the opening position wouldn’t be clever,” Boucher said. “Pieter Malan has done a lot of good work over a long period of time. It’s his home ground. At the moment, we are swinging towards having a straight swap for the opening batsman.”

Malan has a first-class average of 45.16, has scored a century for the Cobras and two for Western Province this summer, and was included in the original 16-man squad for the first two Tests against England. He did not play the opening match but when Markram was injured, he was considered the next man in.

However, after South Africa fielded a team that included only one black African and three other players of colour in the first Test, missing their transformation target by two, the apparent straightforwardness of Malan’s selection became more complicated.

More so, now that Keegan Petersen, a No.3 and a player of colour, has been added to the squad. There was some suggestion that Rassie van der Dussen would be promoted to open the batting to make room for Temba Bavuma lower down the order, as a way for South Africa to get closer to the target of two black African players and four other players of colour. But Boucher suggested that they may fall short again because Bavuma, who is recovering from a hip injury, may not be fit.

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“There are challenges because we have got a few injuries,” Boucher said. “Temba still felt pain in his side yesterday, otherwise we were thinking about using him as a catcher because Temba is a very good fielder.” Instead, Rudi Second stepped in for Markram in the field, and came close to running out Rory Burns with some sharp reactions at short leg.

Even if Bavuma was fit, Boucher hinted that he would not have a free pass back into the XI, because of van der Dussen’s debut performance. He scored a half-century in South Africa’s second innings and was part of a match-winning fifth-wicket stand of 91 with Anrich Nortje. “It will be tough to leave a guy like Rassie out,” Boucher said.

However, Boucher also threw his support behind Bavuma and acknowledged that he will need to be nurtured as he makes his way back from injury.

“I understand Temba has been under pressure. I don’t want to throw him to the wolves. Temba is very good and we will work with him,” Boucher said.

Without Bavuma in the side, South Africa’s new management will come under even more pressure for their missed targets, especially after accusations in recent days, from the Black African Cricket Clubs (BACC), that the structure is controlled by white men.

Boucher acknowledged that there is work to be done in that department and reaffirmed his commitment to change.

“We understand transformation and we understand we need to do a lot of hard work on a lot of players, especially allrounders,” Boucher said. “That’s why Andile [Phehlukwayo] is in the squad.”

Both Boucher and du Plessis have made it clear that Phehlukwayo is being mentored to fill an allrounders’ role in the future, though he will have to bide his time behind Pretorius for now.

All that said, Boucher will be relieved that the regular black African player in the squad, Kagiso Rabada, has found form after a year in which he struggled.

Rabada’s seven wickets at Centurion, including four on the final afternoon, added up to his best haul of the year and was the result of giving him the freedom to cut loose.

“It’s just about getting him into the game,” said Boucher. “Sometimes as an individual you worry about your action, where are you putting the ball. Sometimes you just need to forget about your technique or where you are putting the ball and get into a bit of a fight out there. The goal was to try and get him into the game and get his natural instincts to take over.”