The announcement yesterday of the various national squads to take on one-day strugglers Kenya and minnows Bangladesh in a one-day and a two-Test series threw up a number of astonishing choices.
At the end of the disastrous one-day series in England, it was predictable that Protea’s coach Mickey Arthur would make changes in the squad and the rumours that Makhaya Ntini could be the first casualty have proved true.
Ntini has not been at the top of his game for some time and had a number of hungry young bowlers snapping at his heels. He has conceded more than 60 runs in seven of his last 11 games and has been required to bowl his full quota of overs only once in his last 14 one-day matches.
This lean patch would appear to have cost him his one-day place, and what will make it an even harder pill for him to swallow is the fact that his replacement will be taking on the might of Bangladesh and Kenya and, let’s face it, even Geoff Boycott’s grandmother could pick up a few wickets against them.
It’s sad to think of a South African side without Ntini in it, and he has done South Africa proud over the last 10 years, but it is the perfect time for a youngster to come into the side and make his mark straight away.
The negotiations with bowling all-rounder Ryan McLaren, who left the Free State Eagles and signed a Kolpak contract with county side Kent in 2007, have been succeessful and he has been included.
McLaren has performed well for Kent over the past two seasons with many match-winning performances. These have prompted the South African selectors to give him the opportunity of representing his country. Kent have indicated that they would like to sign him for another four seasons, which would secure McLaren an annual contract over a R1 million a year plus bonuses.
Now McLaren has to earn his South African contract and will probably have to wait — as Neil McKenzie did — to even be considered for a C-grade contract. This would represent probably half of what he would be earning from Kent unless the Proteas perform well, in which case bonuses would bolster his earnings.
Financial considerations often eclipse the honour of being able to walk out and represent your country and the opportunity to play all over the world and test yourself against the best. I am delighted that McLaren appears to aspire to the latter.
André Nel, who recently signed a two-year contract to play for Surrey, is another to be omitted from the squads. The workload for fast bowlers in the county championship is so heavy that he has decided to hang up his boots for South Africa and make hay while the increasingly attractive pound is on offer.
What is curious was the naming of Johan Botha (Warriors) as vice-captain for the one-day squad and the near-certainty he will captain the national team against Kenya in place of the injured Graeme Smith.
Botha has hardly been a permanent fixture in the SA one-day team and I certainly would rather have opted for the inclusion of the innovative and experienced Neil McKenzie as a replacement for Smith or looked to the future with Hashim Amla, who has led the Dolphins, as a caretaker captain.
We could be witnessing a shake-up in South African cricket. How much longer the likes of Mark Boucher, Jacques Kallis and Herschelle Gibbs will be around remains to be seen. They may well be given the squeeze, just as we have seen in India, where Ganguly, Dravid, Kumble and Laxman have been encouraged by media and BCCI alike to retire gracefully after the series against Australia.
The changing of the guard, carefully handled, can be good for the game though, and an exhilarating summer of cricket awaits us with series’ home and away to Australia and plenty of chances for exciting youngsters to prove themselves.
NEIL JOHNSON, a former Natal and Zimbabwe all-rounder, lives and coaches cricket in Pietermaritzburg.