The latest addition to the South African Test team is the 24-year-old top order batsman, Theunis de Bruyn, also the skipper of the Knights franchise. An expected call-up, de Bruyn had racked up some runs in the SunFoil Series, South Africa's domestic First-class competition, for Knights this season and for Titans last time around.
“De Bruyn is the latest player to be rewarded for consistently good form at franchise and South Africa A level,” CSA selection convener, Linda Zondi, had expressed after naming the squad to take on Sri Lanka.
Injury to reserve batsman, Rilee Rossouw, and an impending ban for newly appointed permanent skipper, Faf du Plessis, has forced South Africa to search for batting reinforcements. They did not have to dig deep with de Bruyn's outstanding stats in the last two seasons.
His overall stats are impressive too. In 32 First-class games, de Bruyn has 2534 runs at an average of 48.73 and a best of 202*. He has six hundreds and 14 half-centuries in First-class cricket.
Performance in the SunFoil Series and for South Africa A
de Bruyn has been pretty much knocking on the selectors’ doors for some time with the sheer weight of his runs in the domestic First-class competition. After being appointed as the skipper of the Knights, de Bruyn amassed 425 runs this season at an average of 60.42. He ranks third in the top run scorers list this season.
Last season he had made 602 runs in 9 matches at 37.62 and was eighth in the list of top run makers for the season. His stint with South Africa A was also fruitful as he enjoyed a good run in the limited-overs leg with an average above 50.
Early career and struggle with injuries
de Bruyn excelled right from his school days where he was named under-17 player of the year in 2010. His under-19 call-up came soon enough and he made the youth World Cup squad in 2012, where he played alongside Quinton de Kock and Lizaad Williams. He was the team’s third-highest run scorer in the tournament.
A hip injury stalled his career for the next two years but his talent was undiminished and Titans revived his career by signing him up. He soon became an integral part of Titans’ setup in all formats of the game.
A scintillating 108 in his debut in List A cricket was followed up with a 152 not out. A terrific start in franchise cricket followed as he made 349 runs in his first five matches for the Titans.
Words of Coach and Captain
de Bruyn was always considered to be a special talent and his terrific introduction to franchise cricket made Protea fans hopeful of witnessing the rise of yet another child prodigy.
Henry Davids, his skipper at Titans when he made his debut, was all praise for the youngster. A capped player, Davids commented on de Bruyn after seeing him first hand for the Titans, "He’s got so much pure talent, and he’s able to score all around the wicket. He’s very mature for his age."
His coach, Rob Walters, a widely respected figure in cricketing circles, was bullish about de Bruyn's chances of representing South Africa after his initial season at Titans. He said, "Can he play for the Proteas, is he good enough? There’s no doubt he is."
He shared a good rapport with his former coach too. De Bruyn believed that Walters introduced a culture in Titans where the youngsters, like himself, Corbin Bosch and Aiden Markram, were trained to succeed at higher levels.
A decent off spinner converted to a better medium pacer, de Bruyn has reasonable skills with the ball. He dreams of being a successor to the mighty Kallis, with the ability to chip in a few overs along with being a top order batsman.
His hip operation has meant he cannot fulfil his potential as a bowler although he believes he can contribute a few overs at crucial times.
"That is what I really want to be: a top-order batsman who can take a few wickets. But after that op, I am really going to have to work on the bowling in the off-season. I’m never going to be quick, but I reckon I could be useful when I get it right, bowling at around 130-135[kph]," de Bruyn said in an interview earlier.
Fitting into the setup
De Bruyn is fortunate to bloom at a time South Africa are actively blooding youngsters in their Test setup. The likes of Temba Bavuma, Stiaan van Zyl, Rilee Rossouw, Dwaine Pretorius, Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi have been actively involved in South Africa's plans.
There is no doubt that de Bruyn is a brilliant addition to their arsenal. A top order, hard-hitting batsman is a blessing for any side. His experience with the A team means he has a fair idea about the stress and nature of International Cricket.
He will also have his friend from his under-19 days, Quinton de Kock, with him in the side. The likes of Amla, Faf and de Villiers still being around, means he is never going to be short of guidance.
His biggest challenge in the national team would be to break into the 11. A tightly packed top order of Dean Elgar, Faf Du Plessis and Hashim Amla leave little room for de Bruyn.
The concern surrounding Stephen Cook's technique was also resolved as he made a fighting hundred in the last Test of the series against Australia in Adelaide. With de Villiers expected to return by the New Zealand tour, de Bruyn will have to grab whatever opportunity comes his way in the home series against the Lankans.
That du Plessis' participation in the Port Elizabeth Test is in doubt helps de Bruyn, who is the only reserve batsman in the squad. He may not get many more chances with the team in a good space after the thrashing of the Aussies Down Under.
The lanky batsman is a freakish talent, though, and can be expected to step up to whatever challenge is thrown his way. His form and record suggest that his time in International cricket has finally arrived.