Nortje, de Bruyn, Hamza and more - Meet SA's next gen Test cricketers
South Africa might still be carrying some baggage from their last Test series in India, which they lost 3-0, but within their ranks is a new generation of Test cricketers looking to fill the void left by the retirements of bona fide legends such as Dale Steyn and Hashim Amla. Time to meet the new school of South African Test cricketers.
He became South Africa's 100th Test cricketer since readmission when he debuted against Pakistan at the Wanderers in January. The 24 year-old had been a Test-batsman-in-waiting for a year leading up to that game, and when the chance finally came, he showed he could have what it takes at the top level with a punchy 41 against the quality of Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Abbas and Shadab Khan.
Hoping to channel Faf du Plessis' calmness at the crease, as well as emulate Jacques Kallis' technique and Virat Kohli's passion, Hamza built himself as a batsman who could play any kind of game, whether it was scoring quickly or just staying at the wicket. A first-class average of over 50 suggests he is consistent too.
He was a franchise cricketer by the time he was 21 and, having made significant strides over the last three years, has arrived in India with an idea of what it might take to succeed here. He introduced himself with a hundred against a Board President's XI in a three-day game in Bengaluru last year and only narrowly missed out on another against India A in Alur.
He burst on to the scene out of nowhere during last season's Mzansi Super League, turning heads and smashing stumps with extreme pace, and such was his potential that it wasn't too long before be he got an INR 20 lakh (R400,000) contract with Kolkata Knight Riders. Injuries robbed Nortje of the chance to play in the IPL, and the World Cup in England which followed, and had he been an overnight sensation, that might have been that. But his rise to the limelight had come after a long hard slog in domestic circuit.
Having played much of his first-class cricket on the sluggish tracks of the Eastern Cape, Nortje has shown that he is a wicket-taking option even when conditions don't suit him. His pace, consistently in the mid to high 140s, certainly helps, and last season only Simon Harmer took more wickets than he did for the Warriors in the domestic four-day competition. All these qualities helped him break into the 'A' side and, having been to India twice, he'll hope he's third-time lucky and wins his first Test cap over the coming weeks.
He is hardly an unknown quantity in white-ball cricket - indeed, he has already introduced himself to various overseas audiences on the T20 circuit. Klaasen turned out for Rajasthan Royals in the 2018 IPL, and Royal Challengers Bangalore this year (albeit with very modest returns). Had it not been for an injury to Rudi Second, his pigeon-holing as a white-ball cricketer may well have continued, but the wicketkeeper batsman now has a chance to further his claims as South Africa's next-in-line behind Quinton de Kock.
While Klaasen has risen to prominence in the game's shortest format, as a youngster, it was his form in first-class cricket that made heads turn. Klaasen averaged over 40 in his debut season, over 50 in his second, and over 65 in his third, forcing his way into contention as a franchise cricketer in 2016-17. Klaasen has shown that his white-ball skills are transferable to the longer formats, with a double-hundred to his name. Barring some misadventure, de Kock is likely to keep Klaasen on the bench, but his presence in the touring squad gives the South Africans a ready-made replacement should one be needed.
While Nortje was second only to Harmer for the Warriors, offspinner Piedt was second to no one last season, tearing through sides home and away to top the bowling charts with 54 dismissals. He also added a maiden first-class ton along the way, and very nearly lifted the trophy as captain of the Cape Cobras before the Lions beat them at the post.
This also isn't Piedt's first Indian rodeo: he was understudy to Imran Tahir during South Africa's last Test tour of India in 2015, playing in the fourth match at Feroz Shah Kotla (incidentally, that was also the last Test of Tahir's career). Piedt's last Test came just over three years ago, and while he has only played seven times for South Africa, the 29-year-old is a seasoned first-class cricketer, with 398 wickets in 110 matches. Should conditions warrant it, he will likely be the second spinner in South Africa's line-up, alongside Keshav Maharaj.
Theunis de Bruyn
He was one of the few batsmen to emerge from South Africa's disastrous Test series in Sri Lanka last year with his reputation somewhat enhanced, sweeping his way to a maiden Test hundred on the last day of the series before a Rangana Herath six-for spun Sri Lanka to a 199-run win. De Bruyn credited his time in South Africa's annual spin camps in India for that success and his proficiency on the sweep, and that is exactly the sort of experience he will need to combat the Indian spinners.
De Bruyn will have got a handle on conditions during the recent 'A' tour, of which he was also a part, and is probably ahead of Hamza in the pecking order for South Africa's No. 3 spot - indeed, he has made no secret of the fact that he wants to make that position his own. Grounded by his time in domestic cricket with the Titans, for whom he has emerged as a reliable batsman across formats, three Tests against India could be just the stepping stone de Bruyn needs to push his international career to the next level.
An allrounder who is rarely out of the game, he tallies stylish left-handed batting with more-than-capable left-arm spin. Muthusamy has opened the batting in first-class cricket, and it was in that position that he scored a career-best 181 for the Dolphins during the 2016-17 season, sharing in a mammoth 355-run stand with Vaughn van Jaarsveld. Still it is in the middle order that he has found a home, and he batted at No. 5 in both of the recent unofficial Tests between the A sides of South Africa and India.
Though he admitted to being "overwhelmed" by his selection to the Test squad, Muthusamy is nothing if not prepared. He was part of South Africa's spin camp in August. While his batting is usually his stronger suit, Muthusamy's prowess with the ball is not to be dismissed: he took more wickets (21) for the Dolphins than Maharaj during last season's four-day competition, including figures of 6 for 98.