Mark Boucher is still such a highly-respected member of the South African test team that the selectors have not yet begun a succession plan for him, judging by the squad to tour New Zealand that was announced on Wednesday.
JP Duminy replacing Ashwell Prince is the only change to the test squad that featured against Sri Lanka and it is now almost inevitable that Boucher will go to England in July as the first-choice wicketkeeper.
Convenor of selectors Andrew Hudson told SuperCricket on Wednesday that the option of a back-up to the world record-holder had not been discussed.
“We didn’t want to look too far ahead and I don’t want to speculate on the England tour. At the moment, this is our best squad and if we try and look to the England tour then we’ll be looking too far ahead. We considered this tour in isolation and we’ll pick for the future as and when we need to,” Hudson said.
“That’s why there is no reserve wicketkeeper for the test side, but having AB de Villiers in the wings does help.”
Critics of Boucher – whose batting has come under the most scrutiny – should remember that the feisty veteran made an important 65 in the first test against Sri Lanka on a treacherous Centurion pitch. But those same critics will point to how his batting average has dropped from 54.28 in 2009/10 to 15.83 in the five tests played this season. And those rare misses behind the stumps have now increased to occasional.
There had been a school of thought that the selectors should have named a second wicketkeeper for the New Zealand tour and, depending on how Boucher performs in the three tests, at least the back-up would not be a total rookie for the daunting England trip.
Saying goodbye to someone who has performed so exceptionally and been such a vital part of the team for so long is always terrible, but South Africa will need runs – as well as safe catching – from their wicketkeeper in England, where it is not unusual for a team to be four down by lunch in the often overcast, seam-friendly conditions.
While the test squad is as expected, it is in the limited-overs squads that the selectors have made the most interesting changes.
Justin Ontong – who proved a great finisher for the Cobras en route to their One-Day Cup title with his clever hitting rather than big hitting – has been recalled for both the ODIs and the three T20 internationals.
It has been nearly three years since Ontong last played for South Africa, but his recall feels right given that he has just turned 32 and has been one of the most dominant batsmen in domestic cricket.
“Justin has matured as a player, he spent some time back in domestic cricket, but he’s had a great run, which is very heartening,” Hudson said. “Sometimes a player can maybe be exposed early on, but they can come back later when they understand their game better and are more mature.”
Ontong is likely to slot inside the middle-order, competing with the likes of Faf du Plessis and Albie Morkel for a place in the ODI team.
While Jacques Rudolph and Duminy currently have the inside track for the number six spot in the test team, Hudson hinted that Ontong was not too far off that squad either.
“The number six position has not yet been secured, it’s still open and we look forward to someone grabbing that spot and making it their own,” the former opening batsman said.
There are also clearly moves afoot to refresh the T20 side, with Ontong, Richard Levi and Marchant de Lange all receiving call-ups.
There is a changing of the guard at the top of the order, with Graeme Smith omitted and Cobras star Levi slated to open the batting in his place.
Jacques Kallis has also been rested from the shortest version of the game, but Hudson said there could still be room for both him and Smith in the squad for the ICC World T20 in Sri Lanka in September.
“I’m not closing the door on people, if someone’s good enough, they will play. We’ll still be choosing squads to go to Zimbabwe and England so there are still opportunities to mix-and-match.
“We’ll be going for consistency closer to September but we have quite exciting possibilities in terms of openers with Hashim, Richard, Jacques and Graeme,” Hudson said.
As Smith showed in the last two ODIs against Sri Lanka, it would be stupid to write him off as his experience and big-game temperament could be crucial in the World T20.