Proteas’ Test coach Shukri Conrad reveals plans for life after Dean Elgar

Proteas batman Tony de Zorzi will open the batting with Aiden Markram during the tour of the West Indies. Picture: Phill Magakoe / AFP

Proteas batman Tony de Zorzi will open the batting with Aiden Markram during the tour of the West Indies. Picture: Phill Magakoe / AFP

Published Mar 6, 2024


Batting has been the Achilles heel in the Proteas Test team since the retirements of elegant stroke makers and proven run getters such as Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers, to name a few.

Test centuries have been a rare sight in the South African Test team in recent years.

As a result, coach Shukri Conrad has had to search for potent batters within the domestic structures.

Over the last few years, talented batters have come and gone due to failure to be consistent in Test cricket.

The names Theunis de Bruyn and Keegan Petersen spring to mind as both possessed the finest talent but, unfortunately, failed to show consistency for different reasons.

However, Conrad’s decisions are now starting to look the part, at least on paper and will be tested for the duration of the World Test Championship. Conrad is confident that his latest finds in Tony de Zorzi, Tristan Stubbs and David Bedingham are Test-cricket material.

The 56-year-old told IOL Sport exclusively that De Zorzi will replace Dean Elgar as an opener, while Bedingham and Stubbs will complete the top order for the foreseeable future.

Conrad went on to clarify his position on the wicket-keeping role between Kyle Verreynne and Ryan Rickelton and said that Verreynne will take the gloves in the West Indies in August.

The coach is also considering adding a genuine all-rounder to bat at No 7 and has thrown Wiaan Mulder’s name into the conversation for a potential return to the side.

“The plan was always for Tony (de Zorzi) to open the batting, so I will be surprised if he doesn’t open the batting when we kick off against the West Indies,” said Conrad.

“Our top order and middle order will be made up of the front two (Aiden Markram and De Zorzi) and then Temba Bavuma, Stubbs and Bedingham batting in there. I’ve always liked Tristan Stubbs, I think he’s got an excellent technique, he’s got a great temperament and he’s definitely going to be in the mix there.

“To complete our top six, is it Verreynne or Rickelton? I think Verreynne still has the lead when it comes to the wicket-keeping bit.

“We also need to give a genuine allrounder a chance again because of the value it gives to our side. Plank (Marco Jansen) has made a lot of progress but in my mind I don’t think he’s a No 7 just yet. So, someone like Wiaan might come in.”

While the batting was struggling, the bowling attack almost single-handedly carried the team with Kagiso Rabada leading the quicks while Keshav Maharaj set a template for spinners around the country.

The consistency of these two has allowed Test newbies Jansen, Nandre Burger and Gerald Coetzee to smoothly transition into the format and that has been the difference between the transition of batters and bowlers in Test cricket.

While Rabada and Maharaj have been consistent, the senior batters have not done as good a job to allow new batters the freedom needed to be able to perform at the highest level.

However, outside of Rabada, Jansen, Anrich Nortje, Lungi Ngidi, Coetzee and Burger, the bowling stocks are drying out on the domestic scene and Conrad is concerned.

“If you look at the (CSA Four-Day Series) final that just took place now, I don’t think you saw anyone bowl above 136km/h and that is a massive concern, especially for a country like ours where we’ve always had good fast-bowling stocks,” Conrad said.

“You take Nandre (Burger) out of that final, with respect to the guys that were playing, there was no pace.

“From the spinners’ point of view, outside of Keshav (Maharaj), what are our spinning stocks looking like? When conditions aren’t spin-friendly, will they be able to make a positive impact on the game?

“If I’m being brutally honest, the standards of our bowling as a collective is not strong.

“It makes it really tough to use the first-class game as the only benchmark or barometer for selecting batters,” he concluded.