Offspinner Johan Botha has received official notice that he is not part of South Africa's plans for the Test series against Sri Lanka. He has been released for two and a half weeks to play for Adelaide Strikers in Australia's Big Bash League, and been asked to return to South Africa in time for the ODI series against Sri Lanka, which starts on January 11.
"Right now, we would not need his services in Test cricket," Andrew Hudson, the national convenor of selectors, told ESPNcricinfo. "I wouldn't rule him out totally, but we are comfortable to release him for this period. I'd say that if we need him, something drastic would have to happen to the other guys."
South Africa's first-choice Test spinner is Pakistan-born Imran Tahir, who made his debut against Australia in November. Left-arm spinner Paul Harris is the official back-up, having been included in the squad against Australia, although he did not play a match. Harris was left out of the squad for the first Test against Sri Lanka, but is part of the SA Invitation XI that is playing a warm-up match against the visitors. Botha played five Tests for South Africa but is behind in the spin queue, which prompted his decision to take part in the BBL.
"Gary [Kirsten] was involved in the decision and spoke to Johan about what his role is in the ODI and T20 formats, and where he is in terms of Test cricket in South Africa," Hudson said. "We are happy for him to learn and develop his skills elsewhere."
The Warriors franchise, to which Botha is contracted, also had to agree to his release, which they did. Botha will miss three of the franchise's first-class fixtures while he is in Australia, a loss to the team, which is struggling at the bottom of the SuperSport Series table.
Questions were raised about the decision Botha made to leave a domestic competition at home to play a lucrative event in a foreign country. "It is a little bit concerning because it opens the door for other players to do the same," Tony Irish, chief executive of the South African Cricketers' Association, said. "As long as these decisions are taken with cricketing facts in mind, for example, Herschelle Gibbs is also playing over there, although he is not really in the international frame anymore."
Hudson agreed that the era of the T20 professional could pose problems for less glamorous domestic competitions and even national teams. "What CSA will have to do is understand what this concept of 'a free agent' means," he said. "Some players who don't play in all the formats might request that they are not bound by certain clauses of a national contract. There needs to be some way forward and it brings into the spotlight the structure of a national contract, which may have to have different terms in future."