Cape Town – Prepare for the possibility
that the most industrious Proteas spinner in the three-Test series in Australia
isn’t one of their two intended specialists.
Instead a significant revisit of middle-order
batsman JP Duminy’s credentials as an all-rounder may come into play more than
people realise, with the rookie tweakers on tour, Tabraiz Shamsi and Keshav
Maharaj, far from guaranteed many - or even any - appearances.
The tourists won’t make any hard and fast
decisions, of course, until they have thoroughly assessed local conditions in,
respectively, Perth, Hobart and Adelaide.
But all three venues may prove sufficiently
pace or seam-friendly to persuade the South Africans that a spinner could have
a limited role to play, to the extent that Duminy actually becomes the go-to
man for needs in that area - simultaneously facilitating a four-quickies
The diminutive Cape Cobras cricketer won’t
blow a Test team away with his off-spin, as evidenced by a best single-innings
haul of 4/73, albeit against the very Aussies at Newlands in March 2014.
But he is also a viable “contributor” in
the slow-bowling department, boasting 37 Test victims at 37.29 and an economy
rate of 3.55 which is good enough to suggest game-holding and varietal possibilities
at one end when the need arises over the course of a five-day clash.
Duminy is also bowling with better
consistency again in the limited-overs environment after a problematic spell
for both discipline and confidence, something that might become apparent in the
extended format. Opening batsman Dean Elgar is also capable of chipping in with
a few overs of left-arm spin.
It is risky, of course, the pin your Test
spin hopes in a part-timer, especially when conditions might suddenly suit the
trade more as a game wears on and you rue the absence of a specialist.
But remembering that both Shamsi and
Maharaj are uncapped in Tests, there is also a certain peril to exposing either
against a team traditionally far from shy to “take on” a callow figure to
examine his temperament as quickly as possible.
All of these thoughts are sure to be teasing
the minds already of coach Russell Domingo and the rest of the SA brains trust
on the trip.
Put it this way: the Proteas will certainly
not wish to be found under-staffed in the speed department for the first Test
at the legendary WACA with its healthy carry, and the same may well apply
onward to Bellerive Oval in the fickle, often chilly and damp climate of
Tasmania where they have never previously played a Test match.
Under normal circumstances, the third and
final Test at Adelaide Oval would most obviously cry out for the presence of a
renowned spinner (or even two) but as this will be a day/night affair with a
pink ball and already fears that it may not go five days given likely seam
domination, again either of Shamsi or Maharaj getting a gig is not cast in
A personal suspicion, albeit this far out
from the contest, is that the Proteas, for the WACA opener, will go all-pace
with a quartet comprising Messrs Steyn, Philander, Rabada and Morkel and if
that approach bears fruit, there may be no significant change as the series
The ground has seldom been a paradise for
the slow trade, something borne out by the fact that the last occasion when a
spinner grabbed four wickets or more in an innings was nine Tests back in the
West Australian city – Monty Panesar got 5/92 in the unlikely Aussie first
innings of an Ashes Test in December 2006.
Leg-spin legend Shane Warne, in a career
with a bowling average of 25, averaged a much more modest 36 at the WACA.
But that doesn’t mean you don’t think long
and hard before reluctantly opting to sacrifice a specialist spinner altogether
there; the pitch can be sun-baked and just starting to dust up noticeably at
The last time the Proteas played a Test
there, for example – the decisive match in a series they won 1-0 in 2012/13 –
Robin Peterson picked up six wickets, three in each innings, including the
prize scalps of Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke in the second knock even though
he also took some tap along the way.
Still, I’m sticking to my adventurous
little theory on Duminy just for the time being …
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing