Newlands: Can Proteas do without Keshav?

Cape Town –
Playing a Test at Newlands without a specialist spinner would have been
considered utterly sacrilegious up to a couple of years ago … many would argue
it still is.

But entering
the second encounter with Pakistan over New Year with lone squad specialist in
that department Keshav Maharaj not in the Proteas’ XI may well be at least
contemplated by the brains trust in the lead-up.

It would be
one way, after all, of ensuring that South Africa, 1-0 to the good after
SuperSport Park, could stick with their current “seven batsmen” strategy while
fielding a four-strong, high-quality all-seam bowling arsenal and not having to
drop Centurion player-of-the-match Duanne Oliver (11/96) to accommodate the
expected fit-again, proven superstar Vernon Philander.

Newlands has cried out for at least one frontline spinner in the mix, and with
the weather outlook appearing to be sunny and warm for the Test match at this
point – providing extra scope for break-up and increasingly visible foot-holes
as the game progresses – not fielding left-armer Maharaj would certainly
represent a significant risk.

There could
also be potential for even more egg on the face of the SA strategists if
Pakistani leg-spin ace Yasir Shah – much improved in the second innings at SuperSport
Park and clearly coming gradually to grips with conditions in the country –
proves significantly bothersome.

So the home nation
not employing Maharaj at Newlands is, you would think, a relatively long shot.

That said,
there may well be enough in the deck for the South African faster men – a
line-up of Philander, Steyn, Rabada and Olivier would have a seriously
oomph-laden, no-let-up look to it – to be able to do the 20-wickets task
without the aid of a spinner even if there is some turn on offer.

The Proteas,
in that scenario, would at least have a couple of part-time spin options in the
shape of opening batsmen Dean Elgar (left-arm) and Aiden Markram (off-breaks).

Why the
fairly radical move is also worth mulling over, is that over the course of the
past three Newlands Test matches (two of them New Year affairs, and all of the
trio won by South Africa) spinners have played a relatively limited, subdued
role … whether for the home or visiting cause.

The Proteas
have played Maharaj all three times (Australia and India last season, Sri Lanka
the one before) and he has come out with the relatively lean haul of five
wickets, at an average of 39.00, while seamers have usually been the bowlers hogging
the limelight in dismissals terms.

in last summer’s victories over the Aussies (by 322 runs) and India (72 runs),
the 28-year-old from the Dolphins has found himself used quite sparingly at the

Maharaj was
required for a skimpy 10 overs in total against Virat Kohli’s troops (6-0-20-0
and 4-1-12-0), while against the Baggy Greens he was only a bit more active:
12-3-35-0 and 12-2-32-2.

On that
statistical basis, omitting him for the Pakistan clash suddenly doesn’t seem
such madness.

While I
wouldn’t bet too much on Maharaj’s side-lining from January 3, the possibility could
just swirl teasingly in the minds of Proteas head coach Ottis Gibson and other
senior personnel in the camp.

A more
feasible alternative, if SA feel a five-man attack (including the spinner) is
worth installing, stays arguably the trimming of one batsman …

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Publish date : 2018-12-29 13:21:00

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