Sensible experimentation the way to go
Over the years selection panels picking the national team have been conservative. Given the personalities of the current group of selectors, I'd imagine that not much will change. In essence this unadventurous approach hasn't been a bad thing, as it does create consistency in selection.
It also fosters security and confidence among the players. With the above in mind the test team for the first two tests against Sri Lanka will more than likely be the same as for the Australian series. Depending on what happens during the first two test matches, the selectors may experiment during the third test.
Sri Lanka shouldn't pose any sort of threat for the Proteas on home soil. They have two world-class players in Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara but other than that, there's nothing to be concerned about from a South African point of view. After that, the Proteas head off to New Zealand and from what we have recently seen from a performance point of view, both against Zimbabwe and now against Australia, the Black Caps are no real threat either.
The real test will come for South Africa against England away next winter. That will be a difficult series to win against a very strong outfit. Clearly it is essential that South Africa take their best possible combination to England. In order to do that, the normal conservative selection policy may have to go onto the backburner for the upcoming two series in order to create depth and find the best possible players for the contentious positions.
The majority of the test team selects itself, barring injury of course. There are some positions, however, that require some debate. The No 6 batting position is one of those. After a short stint in the opening role, Ashwell Prince is currently back in this spot. His big rival for the position is JP Duminy. There is one other option as well: Jacques Rudolph could also bat at six with Alviro Petersen coming back into the opening role.
Should there be a change, the likely scenario will be that JP Duminy will come into this position in place of Ashwell Prince. Duminy has been in good form. He is younger than Prince, so he has time on his side. He does however have a questionmark over his ability to play the short ball. This won't matter as much against Sri Lanka and New Zealand where he is unlikely to be tested in this respect, but it will be a concern against England.
It is likely that Rudolph won't be seen as a solution for the No 6 position. Having been slotted into the opening role, the selectors will expect him to occupy the crease against Sri Lanka for long periods and understand that his role at the top of the order is to give the innings a solid start rather than look for the easy option by playing a shot a ball.
He is good enough to do that and against an ordinary attack like Sri Lanka, the opportunity for heavy scoring at the top of the order is there. Should Rudolph miss out during the first two test matches he will find it difficult to prolong his international career.
The next position that is under discussion is that of the wicket keeper. This is an emotional subject, as the feisty Mark Boucher has served South Africa well over many years. Pure wicket-keeping is not so much the issue here. He can still do a job behind the stumps, but his batting is the concern. Due to the way the Proteas have structured their team lately, with such a long tail, they have to get runs from the No 7 position.
Boucher has had a tough time with the bat of late. Five centuries in over 140 test matches doesn't stack up as well as he would have liked against some of the other keeper-batsmen of his era and doesn't necessarily do his ability justice, but he has played some good innings under pressure to help win test matches for South Africa.
Daryn Smit has emerged as the main threat for Boucher in this position. Smit is solid behind the stumps and his batting has improved. Whether it has improved enough to be a force at international level remains to be seen. My feeling is that the selectors will keep Boucher for the first two test matches. His future is in his hands. Like Rudolph the opportunity for getting runs against a modest attack will be there. If he succeeds he may well prolong his career as far as the England series. If not, Smit could be exposed to the international scene towards the latter part of the Sri Lanka series.
The last contentious position is that of the spinner. Enthusiastic as he is, Imran Tahir had only one good spell during the Australian series when he mopped up the Australian tail in the first innings of the second test. He has technical issues to sort out with his run-up which causes him to run in the danger area. I am still puzzled that he arrived for his first test match with this problem clearly evident and why this wasn't corrected at franchise level or by the high performance program. At least he will be doing some work finally to straighten out this issue, with Paul Adams I believe.
Paul Harris is in the test squad and he won't let the Proteas down if they turn to him but the best option may still be Johan Botha. Botha will balance the team up pretty well and is good enough to get wickets at test level.
It may be the ideal time then to step out of the conservative comfort zone as far as selection policy is concerned and try a few new players in key positions in an effort to find the best possible team for the England series next year. Regardless of who the selectors play, the core of the team is so strong that they should win comfortably anyway, so there is nothing to lose and lots to gain by sensible experimentation.