Test squad shows SA spin is in rare rude health

Keshav Maharaj of the Proteas during day 1 of the 1st Sunfoil Test match between South Africa and Australia at Sahara Stadium Kingsmead on March 01, 2018 in Durban.
Keshav Maharaj of the Proteas during day 1 of the 1st Sunfoil Test match between South Africa and Australia at Sahara Stadium Kingsmead on March 01, 2018 in Durban.
Image: Lee Warren/Gallo Images

One squad‚ three spinners. South Africa won’t want for slow poisoners in their men’s Test series in India in October.

Keshav Maharaj‚ South Africa’s first-choice spinner for most of their 30 matches since he made his debut in Perth in November 2016‚ is the player in possession.

He has been omitted for only five of those games‚ four times when South Africa opted for an all-seam attack.

The exception was in the third match of his debut series in Adelaide‚ where Tabraiz Shamsi was preferred and laboured for 43.5 overs for match figures of 2/151.

Since then the go-to spinner has been the slight‚ polite left-arm orthodox Maharaj — who has taken 94 wickets at 28.44.

Just seven bowlers have claimed more scalps in their first 25 Tests for South Africa‚ and Hugh Tayfield is the only spinner among them.

But only Dale Steyn and Kagiso Rabada have earned their places on that list by bowling fewer deliveries than Maharaj.

Barring a dramatic drop in form Maharaj should play all three Tests in India — but he may not be the only spinner in the XI.

Another Dolphins left-arm orthodox spinner‚ Senuran Muthusamy‚ is in the squad along with Cobras off-spinner Dane Piedt.

South Africa also took three spinners to India in their last series there‚ in November 2015‚ and only in one of the four matches did they not include two.

But Imran Tahir alone played in all four games‚ taking 14 wickets at 21.35 in 95 overs.

Simon Harmer claimed 10 at 25.40 in two matches in which he sent down 83.2 overs‚ and in Piedt’s only game he bowled 56 overs and took 4/170.

It’s not even four years on but much has changed.

The experiment with Tahir as a Test player was less than successful and Harmer has abandoned international cricket to become a Kolpak player.

That makes Piedt the survivor.

He hasn’t played a Test in almost three years but he earned another crack at the highest level last season by taking 54 wickets — 20 more than Dane Paterson‚ the leader of the chasing pack — at an average of 27.74 in 10 first-class games for the Cobras.

Piedt‚ unusually aggressive for an off-spinner and bristling with variations‚ had two 10-wicket hauls‚ five five-fors‚ and an economy rate of 2.92 — impressive enough on its own considering he bowled 511.5 overs.

His inclusion make sense‚ but why pick Muthusamy and Maharaj considering they are both left-armers.

“Keshav’s greatest strength is his control of length‚ while Senuran is slower through the air‚ gets the ball above the eyeline and has the ability to extract turn off the surface‚” said Dolphins coach Imraan Khan‚ a decent dabbler in tweak himself.

“They are different types of bowlers but both have been equally effective for the Dolphins in all formats this past season.”

In first-class cricket for the Dolphins in 2018/19 Muthusamy took 21 at 32.00 and Maharaj claimed 19 at 42.21.

Ten bowlers did better than Muthusamy and 15 were above Maharaj‚ which might say more about South African conditions than it does about the two Dolphins’ abilities.

Thing is‚ Piedt bowled on the same surfaces and was exponentially more successful.

Whatever else all that might mean it’s evidence that spin bowling is in rare rude health in South Africa.

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