Proteas

Champs Trophy: Shamsi is unlucky

2017-04-19 16:10
Tabraiz Shamsi (Gallo Images)

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 before it).

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 50-overs landscape.

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 Zealand turf.

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 prestigious event.

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 SuperSport Park.

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 wiles.

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”…

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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