Maharaj returns fantastic figures to reign Sri Lanka in

South African bowler Keshav Maharaj bowling during day 1 of the 1st Test match between Sri Lanka and South Africa at Galle International Stadium on July 12, 2018 in Galle, Sri Lanka.
South African bowler Keshav Maharaj bowling during day 1 of the 1st Test match between Sri Lanka and South Africa at Galle International Stadium on July 12, 2018 in Galle, Sri Lanka.
Image: Isuru Sameera Peiris/Gallo Images/Getty Images

It did happen‚ in spades‚ for Keshav Maharaj‚ who took 8/116. This was not only his career-best performance but the best by any bowler — seam‚ spin‚ whatever — in the 14 Tests South Africa have played in Sri Lanka as well as the best by a spinner from any foreign country on the Asian island.

In all South Africa’s 427 Tests only six bowlers have had a better day at the office than the left-arm spinner. Since readmission‚ one — Allan Donald claimed 8/71 against Zimbabwe in Harare in October 1995.

Maharaj had plenty to do with the home side being curbed to 277/9 at stumps on the first day of the second Test‚ which South Africa must win to level the series.

As brilliantly as he bowled‚ taking his trademark discipline and tenacity to new levels‚ Maharaj had help from four dodgy sweep shots‚ wonderful catches by Quinton de Kock‚ Kagiso Rabada and Aiden Markram‚ and a pitch that made even Markram’s occasional off-spin look like it had been fired from the arm of Muttiah Muralitharan.

That Markram bowled at all‚ never mind as many as seven overs‚ and that Dean Elgar sent down three overs of left-arm ordinary‚ tells its own story.

South Africa bolstered their batting by including Theunis de Bruyn at the expense of Vernon Philander‚ who was always going to be the bowler to make way after being entrusted with only 11 overs in the first Test in Galle.

That made sense‚ not least because the visitors were shot out for 126 and 73 in that match.

What didn’t add up was South Africa’s other change — Lungi Ngidi for Tabraiz Shamsi.

The left-arm wrist spinner took 3/91 and 1/37 in Galle‚ and then returned home following the death of his father.

He was back in Sri Lanka in time to play in Colombo and was listed as available‚ but somehow he was left out in favour of a fast bowler in conditions the South Africans must have known would be tailored for slow poison.

It would be understandable if Shamsi was too unsettled by the tragedy in his family to be able to give of his best.

But if that was the case leg spinner Shaun von Berg should have cracked the nod to become‚ at 31‚ the 100th player to make his Test debut for South Africa since readmission.

Instead the visitors will have to make do with Maharaj‚ who took the second new ball ahead of Steyn in the last two overs of the day‚ and odds and sods like Markram and Elgar.

What price Maharaj becoming the second bowler to take nine wickets in an innings for South Africa‚ which is currently the sole preserve of off-spinner Hugh Tayfield and his 9/113 against England at the Wanderers in February 1957?

“I haven’t thought that far yet; I could do with a massive meal and putting my feet up‚” Maharaj told Shaun Pollock — who still holds half the wicket-taking record with Steyn — in a post-play television interview.

Maharaj bowled 32 overs‚ or more than a third of the total. Tayfield‚ who sent down 37 eight-ball overs for his haul against England all those 61 years ago‚ would have known how Maharaj felt.

And he would have ended that massive meal with stiff drink and a smoke.

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