Former South Africa captain Shaun Pollock says the Proteas must coax AB de Villiers back into the Test arena if they are to turn around their batting form in upcoming series against India and Australia.
The Proteas are on the precipice of a Test series defeat in England, trailing by 360 runs at stumps on day three of the fourth Test in Old Trafford.
De Villiers has not played a Test for South Africa since January 2016, with injury sidelining the 33-year-old for much of last year.
And while it had long been planned that de Villiers would miss the four-Test campaign against England to take a break from the strain of playing all three international formats, he has yet to commit to any future appearances in the whites.
Pollock believes CSA should focus on convincing de Villiers to return to the Test arena, if only for the series against India and Australia, as well as finding a consistent partner for Dean Elgar at the top of the order.
"The bowling line-up looks settled, they’ve got Keshav Maharaj who has come on in leaps and bounds and maybe even Dale Steyn could be back at some stage we would hope," Pollock said on the Cricket Writers podcast.
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"But I definitely think they’ve got to go down the route of trying to convince AB de Villiers, even if it is just for six months for those two big tours, that he needs to make himself available.
"Then, the next step would be to try and find someone consistent at the top of the order. I think those are the two big challenges for the South Africans."
From eight innings to far in the four-Test series, only one South African – opener Dean Elgar – has reached triple figures.
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Elgar has scored 286 at 40.85, but the Proteas other leading batsmen have struggled to have a major impact.
Hashim Amla (246 runs at 35.14) and Temba Bavuma (245 at 35.00) have been promising at times without going on to a major score, while Quinton de Kock (184 at 26.28) and captain Faf du Plessis (110 at 22) have been below their best.
Opener Heino Kuhn has averaged 14.57, in a worrying sign for the Proteas ahead of a busy summer that will see them host Bangladesh, India and Australia in Test series.
"They have been disappointing, even the form players have shown little bits and pieces of what they’re capable of, but no one really has gone and gotten big scores consistently,” Pollock said.
"Hashim Amla has been okay by his standards, Dean Elgar’s got a hundred, Temba Bavuma has been solid without going on to three figures and Faf has shown glimpses.
"Quinton de Kock hasn’t been at his best, while the struggles of Heino Kuhn have been well documented.
"So I think that us a bit of a challenge going forward. They’ve got Bangladesh coming up at home where they can maybe try and settle things down, but then they’ve two big tours, India at the end of the year and then Australia after that, those are massive tours.”
Pollock's suggestion is in direct contrast to that of another former skipper, with Graeme Smith recently saying de Villiers should end the abiguity around his future and formally retire from Test cricket to prolong his career for the 2019 World Cup.
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"His personal prerogative is ensuring he does all he can to add as much longevity to his international career as possible, as well as taking in to account the harsh realities of touring such as the amount of travel involved, and the toll that takes on your body," Smith wrote in a column for Britain's Independent newspaper.
"My advice to him would be to step away from the captaincy, and concentrate his energy in to maintaining his levels in white-ball cricket for the next two years.
"Put simply, if that is what’s best for him and the longevity of his career, then that is what’s best for South African cricket."
With Bangladesh due to tour South Africa in September, de Villiers expects to know by then what his international workload will entail.
"I am going to meet with CSA (Cricket South Africa) in August, and that will decide my (international) future," de Villiers told reporters in June.
"We will see what works for both parties.
"We are not going to pick and choose games, but we are going to make a final decision about what happens for the next few years."
The details of South Africa’s showdown against India have yet to be confirmed, while the Proteas will host Australia in a four-Test series next March.
They will face off in Durban, Port Elizabeth, Cape Town and Johannesburg as Australia look to regain the trophy they surrendered on home soil last November.