Cape Town – I would stop a very long way short of branding
it a mad choice.
It may even turn out to be inspired … and the national
selectors have boasted quite pleasing doses of that quality in recent times.
But the preference of Keshav Maharaj to Tabraiz Shamsi as
second out-and-out spinner is, nevertheless, possibly the only eyebrow-raiser
in the 15-strong Proteas squad announced on Wednesday for the ICC Champions
Trophy in June (and three very useful tune-up ODIs against England immediately
Generally, the South African ODI side and more extended
party has had a gratifyingly settled look about it over the course of the last
season, and this is reflected in the low-on-shock-value
names revealed by convener Linda Zondi for the major upcoming tasks in the
They have won all of their last seven bilateral series,
including 5-0 clean sweeps of both Australia and Sri Lanka and, most recently,
a praiseworthy 3-2 triumph on always challenging, sometimes unpredictable New
Those are hardly outcomes to suggest the wise men sat
uncomfortably for hours before showing their collective hand for the Champions
Trophy, yet another inviting opportunity for the Proteas to lay their long-time
multinational tournament jinx to rest.
The slight curveball -- and a departure from the hallmark of
notable recent consistency and patience in selection -- is Maharaj leapfrogging
the similarly 27-year-old but greatly less orthodox Shamsi as back-up to
evergreen, still match-winning frontline spinner Imran Tahir.
Of course there is every chance that a second specialist
slow bowler will be summoned sparingly, if at all, to the Proteas XI during the
relatively short, sharp Champions Trophy, remembering that batsman JP Duminy is
always available for a few supplementary overs of spin.
But Shamsi might feasibly argue that he’s demonstrated
enough promise over the course of five ODIs so far to warrant a ticket to the
It was only three personal games ago, remember, that his
10-1-36-3 went a long way to undoing Australia at Port Elizabeth.
The Titans player was also effective in the last major
domestic match of the summer on March 31, bagging three for 31 as the Warriors
were thrashed in a disappointingly one-sided Momentum One Day Cup final at
All that said, Maharaj has clearly been rewarded for his
significant advances in Test whites during 2016/17, a landscape where he has seized
26 scalps at an average of 25.88 and exercised good discipline to go with his
He also wields the willow quite lustily, if a tad
cavalierly, near the bottom of the order and that has been cited by the SA
brains trust as an extra reason for his first-time ODI-level nod.
Still, the Proteas squad is so loaded – as was always
expected – with spirited hitters among the versatile-package seam battery that
Maharaj’s batting credentials don’t seem an especially compelling reason for
his preference over Shamsi.
Yet it may also have met the eye of the selectors that
Maharaj, in List A cricket, sports slightly better statistics than the player
now omitted: 95 wickets at 29.10 (economy 4.81), as opposed to Shamsi’s 69 at
30.11 and economy rate of 5.03.
I believe Shamsi can count himself unfortunate to watch the
Champions Trophy on TV … but I am also not about to call Zondi’s panel two prawn
sandwiches short of a picnic feast by feeling that Maharaj may transfer his
Test strides to the shorter international environment.
They could argue with some justification that Tahir is all
the X-factor you need, and that the latter’s steadiness is a healthy foil for
the effervescent “Immie”…
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