Hello... SA’s spin stocks soar

2015-01-06 06:47
Simon Harmer (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - While it remains too early to make an emphatic judgement, in the space of only some five months the Proteas appear to have unearthed two young Test spinners - Simon Harmer and Dane Piedt - sporting well overdue X-factor.

As it happened: SA v West Indies - Day 4

Through the post-isolation years, up to the middle of 2014, South Africa had generally been more renowned for producing willing, spirited “stop up an end” slow bowlers lacking in true bamboozlement potential (even if a rookie Paul Adams changed all that for a relatively short time in the mid-1990s with his bewildering unorthodoxy before starting to flat-line).

Suddenly off-spinners Piedt and Harmer have burst onto the scene in respective, single Test appearances ... and each making a notable impact with a combination of good discipline, daring and enterprise.

First Cape Cobras prospect Piedt, 24, claimed match figures of eight for 152 in a lone August Test against Zimbabwe in Harare, and now Harmer has marked his maiden appearance in the premier format with a similar return of seven for 153 against West Indies at Newlands.

Warriors favourite Harmer showed plenty of promise even in the unlikely landscape of the first innings of the match - not normally the time for spinners to prosper in the shadow of Table Mountain - but on pivotal day four of this final Test on Monday he could really be said to have come into his own.

In tandem with superstar strike bowler Dale Steyn, playing his 78th Test, the pair were overwhelmingly responsible for a nightmarish collapse by the tourists on a rain-delayed day made up of one gruelling four-hour session.

They have shared 14 wickets and ended their bowling duties at Newlands - they will seriously hope not to have to wield a willow again - with absolutely identical match analyses.

For a good part of the curtailed play, West Indies looked like retaining their staunch competiveness in the contest to that point.

But then in the space of some 16 dramatic overs, Harmer and Steyn, in their very different ways, were the primary architects of a seven-strong avalanche of dismissals that have almost certainly turned the game on its head and made the No 1-ranked Proteas overwhelming favourites to win – possibly by very early afternoon on Tuesday unless there is a significant wobble among the cream of their batting.

If Steyn’s main allies were two known key strings to his bow - the discovery of lethal reverse swing with a faded ball and the often associated demonic look he gets in his eyes that suggests constant activity for him in the wickets column - Harmer’s contribution was a triumph for his perseverance and sound temperament after taking some concerted stick from Marlon Samuels.

His snaring of the very Samuels for 74, criminally falling into the trap of going for one booming lofted drive over long-on too many, was the boulder that triggered the landslide.

Samuels is almost 34 and after 55 Tests you would imagine he might have curbed a long-time reputation for fatal impetuosity at inconvenient times; instead he had veteran commentator and West Indies legend Michael Holding sighing that he would be a far more prolific scorer at this level if he “would only think a lot more” about his game.

What was instructive about Harmer’s on-day showing was the way his body language - at no stage ever succumbing to bleak resignation, mind - so visibly lifted after earning his revenge on the right-handed batsman.

A bit like Steyn famously does, you just sensed that he felt further inroads of his manufacture were firmly on the cards, and they came.

Even as he bagged a satisfying quartet of personal dismissals, bear in mind that he should have had another Windies bedrock batsman, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, too - wicketkeeper AB de Villiers fluffed a catching opportunity off a Harmer ball that spun away from the crabby left-hander almost violently.

There’s a refreshing joyousness to Harmer’s cricket, to go with his confidence and no lack of guile.

The discovery of 25-year-old Harmer has been happily inadvertent, given that he would not have received this opportunity had Piedt not been in recovery from a months-long injury, and then seasoned Robin Peterson ruled out of contention for the Newlands Test also, due to a finger mishap.

Expect Piedt, with his especially varied bag of tricks including a handy doosra, to want his spot back with some earnest when the Proteas go to Bangladesh around the middle of this year.

It is a shame in some ways, of course, that both players are off-spinners. Given the way the current SA Test team is structured, fielding them together is not consistently likely; once fit again JP Duminy will also provide occasional dollops of that trade so there is the danger of overkill.

But with Harmer possibly that bit better geared than Piedt to do a holding job in certain circumstances - he is also a more adhesive tail-end batsman statistically in the first-class arena at this point - having both in the same touring squad wouldn’t be the worst call in the world.     

Those of cautious disposition will be quick to remind, with some merit, that Piedt tormented 10th-ranked minnows Zimbabwe once-off and Harmer similarly a West Indies side lying only two spots higher on the global pecking order.

Stronger teams will doubtless try to serve up “corrections” when they run into either South African tweaker further up the scheduling line.

But there is also pretty good reason for Harmer and Piedt, and those who have been impressed by their initial Test strides, to shout: “Bring that on ...”

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  dane piedt  |  simon harmer  |  cricket

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