ICC Champions Trophy

Proteas: Maharaj infusion for ‘QF’?

2017-06-10 21:45
Keshav Maharaj (Gallo Images)

London – Taking “pace off the ball” seems a reasonably advisable course of action at times in the effective ICC Champions Trophy quarter-final between South Africa and India at The Oval here on Sunday.

Well, why wouldn’t it be?

This is the venue, now staging its fifth tournament game, where the Proteas’ leg-spinner Imran Tahir earned the player-of-the-match mantle for his four for 27 en route to the triumph over Sri Lanka last weekend.

In the most recent fixture at the Kennington-located ground, too, pacemen were treated with notable disdain in a high-scoring encounter between India and the Sri Lankans, with the underdogs making startlingly short shrift of chasing down a steep target of 322.

A feature of the tussle was the main ‘Lankan seamers – Messrs Malinga, Lakmal and Pradeep – all travelling for 70 runs or more, whilst the Indian tearaway Umesh Yadav had been lashed for 67 runs off 9.4 overs when the result was sealed.

It is a scorecard that will have left the Indians, considering their particularly swift revisit to the ground for this one, chewing over their alternative options in bowling for the red-letter occasion with the Proteas.

Little wonder that tall off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin – a special tormentor of South Africa in the Indian-staged Test series of 2015 -- has been heavily tipped to enter the event a little belatedly on Sunday.

At his captain’s press conference on Saturday, SA skipper AB de Villiers admitted: “I’m expecting to see him in the team tomorrow; we are preparing for him being in the side. If it doesn’t happen then so be it.

“He’s a great bowler who has had success against us in the past, in India. But that’s for them to decide -- if he’s in the team we’ll try our best to play well against him.”

But the likely inclusion of Ashwin raises the possibility that the Proteas may bolster their own spin arsenal, currently comprising Tahir and the part-time option of JP Duminy with his off-breaks, at The Oval.

That would require the ditching of a fast bowler and under current circumstances Wayne Parnell, still mired in frustrating inconsistency, seems the likeliest cull if space is to be made for left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj.

Parnell may also be under pressure from fellow all-rounders Andile Phehlukwayo and Dwaine Pretorius, but conditions do just seem to suggest that an additional slow-bowler is the wise way to go.

Maharaj has been making sterling strides with his skill and intelligence in the SA Test side, but remains a rookie in ODI terms with just two caps, both against England in the recent mini-series preceding the Champs Trophy.

He took a 72-run pummelling on his debut appearance in pivotal game two of the three at Southampton for a return of one wicket from a full 10 overs, but that told a deceptive story because several chances were earlier spilled off his bowling.

Pleasingly, in the follow-up – albeit a dead-rubber affair – at Lord’s, where the Proteas pulled back a consolation triumph, Maharaj was influential with an analysis of three for 25 in just more than six overs.

So he remains inexperienced in the hurly-burly of really high-stakes ODIs, and there would arguably also be a small sacrifice of lower-order batting muscle if, for instance, he came in directly for No 8-type batsman Parnell.

Still, Parnell suffered a golden duck in the slightly unexpected reverse to Pakistan at Edgbaston, and it is not as though Maharaj cannot hold a blade.

He is an audacious, relatively carefree attacker at the crease, and has a not-to-be-sniffed-at first-class batting average of almost 23, including two centuries.

With Kagiso Rabada also continuing to develop as a sometimes truly stylish stroke-player around the No 9 spot for the Proteas, it is not as though their tail is too discernibly brittle …

*Rob Houwing is attending the Champions Trophy for Sport24. Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing



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