Hamza and Piedt give Conrad something to smile about
Zubayr Hamza, Neil Brand and the two Danes — Piedt and Paterson — were the leading lights for a South Africa A team whose performances against West Indies have created a semblance of solace for Shukri Conrad.
The Proteas Test coach is a realist and will therefore be fully cognisant of the fact that a 2-1 home series win — which should have been a 3-0 sweep — against a youthful West Indies side, won’t automatically translate into Test success in New Zealand next year.
Most of the players involved in the SA A side in the last couple of weeks will head Down Under in January for those two Tests, which coincides with the SA20 and thus the contracted Proteas are forbidden from travelling.
However, the depth in South African cricket would appear to be reasonable with Hamza, Piedt, Paterson, Duane Olivier and Hardus Viljoen, all possessing Test experience even if it's not extensive.
Hamza, who moved from Cape Town to Johannesburg to join the Lions in the winter was one of three centurions for the SA A side, along with skipper Brand as well as Keegan Petersen.
The latter will be involved in the Indian series and perhaps the most noticeable aspect of his play against the West Indies was the aggression he showed.
Petersen, previously tended to get bogged down, but in wanting a more attacking mindset from his batters, Conrad will be pleased that Petersen’s 247 runs in the series, came at a strike rate of 67.11. His unbeaten 112 in East London was scored off 134 balls.
Meanwhile Brand’s level-headedness may well result in a maiden Test cap in New Zealand, and assist Conrad in not having to shuffle the batting order too much.
The tall left-hand opener made a century and a 50 in the series and also delivered 29 overs of tidy spin to serve notice of his consistency.
The 27-year-old is not a flashy cricketer, but in New Zealand conditions where seam movement and swing will be prevalent, having someone like him, who possesses a solid technique and strong mind, could prove invaluable.
It would also mean Tony de Zorzi can stay at no.3, where he is looking to cement a place in the Test team.
It was the bowling that arguably held the biggest concerns for Conrad and it was thus understandable that he sought experience as far as that department was concerned. The text exchange with Piedt during the winter, enticing him to come back from the US, clearly seems to have energised the 33-year-old off-spinner.
His 15 wickets in the series included a match return of 11/ 107 in the second game in East London and with nine Tests already to his name, Piedt won’t be overawed by the occasion in New Zealand.
Among the quicks, Paterson’s impact was notable especially his ability to move the ball away from the right hander, an element that will be critical given the conditions the Proteas will encounter in Mount Maunganui and Hamilton.
The 34-year-old Paterson, earned two Tests caps four years ago — amid a plethora of injuries and suspensions in a home series with England. He remains a canny operator and his performances for Nottinghamshire in England have kept the body ticking over and ensured he hasn’t lost rhythm.
Olivier and Viljoen may not have been as impactful, but Conrad will hope that through matches against India A next week, or even by playing for their provinces, they may build up the necessary intensity.
Tshepo Moreki finished the series with eight wickets, while Mihlali Mpongwana produced the odd spell that suggested he could be an option in the all-rounder role.
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