Lungi Ngidi and Khaya Zondo have been named in South Africa's ODI squad for the first three matches against India starting on February 1. The pair are uncapped in the format, though Zondo was part of the limited-overs squad that traveled to India in late 2015. Ngidi has played three T20s but no ODIs, after a rib injury resulted in him missing out on the ODI series against Sri Lanka last January and he could not be considered for the Champions Trophy squad because of a back problem.
The squad also sees the return of Morne Morkel and Chris Morris, who missed out on the Bangladesh series with a side strain and back issue respectively, as well as a return for Tabraiz Shamsi as the second spinner, behind Imran Tahir.
The major surprise was the exclusion of Farhaan Behardien, who has been a regular member of the side and currently sits sixth in the one-day cup run charts, where he is averaging over 50, with a strike-rate of over 92. In contrast, Zondo is in 16th place with an average of 43.83 and a strike rate just over 65 but was preferred over Behardien as part of South Africa's "vision 2019" - their grand plan to fine-tune their World Cup squad.
"It's important for us to be clear in terms of where we are in our plans. We are starting our vision 2019, which are the players we are looking for," Linda Zondi, South Africa's convener of selectors said. "It is important for us to increase the pool and give opportunity so that we know by the time it comes to late this year, we don't have to be clouded. This is a holistic approach in terms of giving opportunity. This is going to happen for the whole year. There will be guys, key guys, that we are going to rest and rotate."
The rotation policy will apply for the six-match India series and South Africa's July-August tour of Sri Lanka, after which Zondi hopes to be "more or less close" to a World Cup pool.
Zondo is a particularly interesting selection because of his backstory. He did not play a game on the India tour in 2015, even when JP Duminy was injured in the series. Instead, Dean Elgar was flown to India and played, prompting a furore from black African players in the country. They penned a letter to CSA, bemoaning the fortunes of black players and asking for fair opportunities. The following year, CSA made public a transformation target that requires the national side to play a minimum average of six players of colour of which at least two must be black African over the course of the season.
South Africa have stuck to that target and Zondo is unlikely to go uncapped again. Zondi explained Zondo is being looked at as having a future in the middle order. "We feel he can play a role in terms of rotating the strike and he does have the strength in terms of clearing the boundary. He has shown potential and his skills in South Africa A," Zondi said.
But Behardien was assured his World Cup dreams were not over. He will come into consideration after the first half of the India series, when South Africa will reassess their squad. "He knows, every single player knows that after the third game, we are going to sit and decide. We will definitely be resting, rotating and giving opportunity otherwise we will be sitting with the same names as we prepare for 2019," Zondi said.
Other positions that South Africa woud want to look at are of the spinner and the wicketkeeper, with Tahir and Quinton de Kock well established and a lack of serious candidates to challenge either of them. Shamsi has been around the squad but last played an ODI in February last year against New Zealand. He is the leading wicket-taker in the one-day cup, with 26 scalps, nine more than his nearest contender, at an average of 14.84, but faces some competition from Test tweaker Keshav Maharaj.
"At the moment, I think Tahir is still our No.1 spinner. Shamsi will come into the picture," Zondi explained. "There are a couple of spinners we need to look at. Maharaj is part and parcel. He bowls and he bats, he is a good fielder. Let's see what Shamsi can bring to the table and we also need to see how we can bring Maharaj."
In the keeping department, South Africa have not named a reserve for de Kock but may do later in the series. "What happens if Quinton gets injured? Is AB going to take the gloves? Maybe not, but we have a plan in terms of a keeper," Zondi said. "With the keeping situation, we've got [Heinrich] Klaasen, [Mangaliso] Mosehle and [Rudi] Second."
The only person who may have to wait his turn is Dale Steyn, who is recovering from a heel injury and is only expected to return to the international stage for the Australia Tests. Steyn has not played an ODI since October 2016 and has not played even domestic 50-over cricket since his shoulder injury 13 months ago. Though Steyn, like so many of South Africa's seniors, has his heart set on the World Cup, it appears as though his place is not guaranteed.
"For now, the main focus is to see how Dale Steyn does in the Tests. He needs to go back to the franchise and see where he is with white ball," Zondi said. "I am quite comfortable with the manner that he performed when he came back. Now he has a different injury but I am very optimistic. He is part of this vision."
ODI squad: Faf du Plessis (capt), Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Imran Tahir, Aiden Markram, David Miller, Morne Morkel, Chris Morris, Lungi Ngidi, Andile Phehlukwayo, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Khaya Zondo