Welcome to international cricket’s coronavirus-related “catch-up” world.
Helped by the fact that it is currently their mid-summer anyway, England earlier this week faced a rare challenge: overlapping needs in Test and ODI cricket.
It is a dilemma that may, soon enough, face other countries at times … including South Africa.
Even as they played the last of their three 50-overs clashes with Ireland at Southampton, a 14-strong English Test squad was in the throes of final preparation for the next day’s start of the first encounter with Pakistan in Manchester, almost 300km away.
The big squeeze can be said to have begun, globally, to deal with the fixture backlog across the three major formats due to the pandemic, which continues to wreak varying degrees of havoc and heartache in countries.
Fortunately for England, they boast pretty good depth of top-level talent in 2020, particularly given their status as defending World Cup champions.
So they were able to dedicate 14 players to their Test squad in the north-west of the country, while still putting out a solid ODI outfit against the smaller-nation Irish, who would earn an upset victory in the dead-rubber closing match after being whipped in the first two.
Priority was clearly given to Test plans against the unpredictable, but ever-talented Pakistanis, but England also have a very specialist ODI captain in Eoin Morgan, plus several figures in their white-ball arsenal who don’t really come into the Test picture currently, if at all: names like Adil Rashid, Jason Roy, James Vince and David Willey spring to mind.
The Test squad similarly features a handful of players who, either by personal choice or better suitability to the long-form game, stick to that landscape: players like veteran fast bowlers James Anderson and Stuart Broad, and the patient opening batsmen Dom Sibley and Rory Burns.
Crossover stars who missed out on the Ireland clashes because of the “double-dating” issue, however, included Test skipper Joe Root, plus Jofra Archer, Jos Buttler and hot-property all-rounder Ben Stokes.
It begs the intriguing question of how the Proteas, for example, might deal with a similar scenario… and perhaps they may yet, given the bilateral backlog?
Let’s imagine that they, too, require 14 players for a Test squad against the very same Pakistan, hypothetically at the Wanderers, while also needing to assemble a team to play Ireland in an ODI at roughly the same time and at a venue some distance away like Paarl.
As with England in the last few days, priority would – or certainly should – go to the five-day intentions, meaning that frontline, present multi-format customers Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis, Kagiso Rabada, Aiden Markram, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje and perhaps one or two others would be required at the Bullring and miss out on the limited-overs action in the winelands.
It would, however, really just mean business as usual for specialist Test factors who would include, especially if based on most recent selection trends, Dean Elgar, Pieter Malan, Zubayr Hamza and Keshav Maharaj.
The Proteas selectors had also, at the back end of the surrendered home Test series to England last summer, added such names to the broader squad (a fairly bloated one at the time, suggesting some indecision) as still-untried rookies Rudi Second and Keegan Petersen.
One thing that would immediately have to be grappled, unlike with the clear-cut Root/Morgan situation for England, would be captaincy issues if South Africa needed a Test and ODI team at the same time.
Attacking batsman and premier wicketkeeper De Kock is now the white-ball skipper in place of yeoman-serving Faf du Plessis, who remains available for the moment as batsman to all causes.
But De Kock would certainly be required for the Test side for the imaginary Johannesburg tussle, so perhaps the best solution would be to install Temba Bavuma – wonderfully consistent in both T20 internationals and ODIs at the tail-end of last summer – as white-ball leader and major top-order factor “in Paarl”.
That might then free up Aiden Markram, for all his enigmatic hallmarks, to take the Test reins, as many urge, and bat somewhere within the top four there.
Leaning quite generously on selection preferences from the 2019/20 campaign, a Proteas Test XI for a Wanderers match could look something like this: Dean Elgar, Pieter Malan, Aiden Markram (capt), Faf du Plessis, Quinton de Kock, Rassie van der Dussen, Dwaine Pretorius, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Lungi Ngidi.
Recommended additional players to make up a party of 14 there would be Beuran Hendricks (extra seamer, and left-arm option), Rudi Second (extra ‘keeper/batsman) and any one of dedicated batsmen Zubayr Hamza (I’d install him if the wise men decide to “move on” from ageing Du Plessis for Test purposes), Theunis de Bruyn or Keegan Petersen.
So where would that leave South Africa’s ODI plans?
Especially if the experienced Bavuma was asked to take the reins, they could still field an XI confidently expected to repel a team like Ireland under the Boland sun.
That side might look not dissimilar to this, especially remembering the personnel who aided the late-season ODI home flourish against Australia (who were thumped 3-0) last summer: Janneman Malan/Reeza Hendricks, Jon-Jon Smuts, Temba Bavuma (capt), Kyle Verreynne, Heinrich Klaasen, David Miller, Chris Morris/Wiaan Mulder, Andile Phehlukwayo, Daryn Dupavillon, Lutho Sipamla, Tabraiz Shamsi.
The exercise arguably does enough to suggest that, whatever the reservations about South Africa’s domestic-level standards of competition, the country can assemble credible, simultaneous Test and one-day sides if required to do so and with a sufficient stock of the personnel playing to their expectations.