Johannesburg - Proteas spin bowling coach Claude Henderson says that, just because there are three tweakers in the side that leaves for Sri Lanka on Sunday, it’s not necessarily suddenly a spinning team.
In announcing the team, the national selectors more than covered their spin bases for the two-Test tour of Sri Lanka - which will also take in five one-day internationals and the obligatory T20 - by picking the rather different trio of incumbent Keshav Maharaj (left-arm orthodox), the recalled Tabraiz Shamsi (left-arm Chinaman) and the uncapped Shaun von Berg (right-arm leg break).
But Henderson is not even sure we’ll get to see two spinners play together in one of the Tests.
“With the subcontinent, you never know what they’re going to prepare. So we don’t know what conditions we’ll play in and this gives us options.
“The selectors wanted to cover all their bases and all three of them have different attributes, which is a great thing for us.”
Henderson said the 31-year-old Von Berg’s selection for the Tests had been well deserved after a 96-game first-class career highlighted by 345 wickets and a batting average of 28.71.
“Shaun has shown a lot of consistency as a leg-spinner,” he said. “It also helps that he can bat because it makes a massive difference if your number eight to 11s can bat a bit. He’s another option for (head coach) Ottis Gibson and (captain) Faf du Plessis to look at.”
The fiery Shamsi’s return comes after a period in which it seemed he was destined to be typecast as a white ball specialist, but Henderson said the cheeky Titans man could prove valuable in Sri Lanka.
“Apart from being a Chinaman bowler, he’s unique because of the pace he bowls at with the revolutions he puts on the ball. He’s worked hard on his bowling and has performed well.
“He’s a tough customer in spinning conditions with that pace and the Sri Lankans have a few left-handed batsmen in their team. To have someone who can spin the ball away from them will be a good thing for us.”
Henderson said they hadn’t quite reached the point where they were worried about fast bowler Kagiso Rabada’s workload. He returns from a back injury that forced him to miss this year’s Indian Premier League after his heroics against Australia elevated him to the number one ranked Test bowler in the game.
“He’s done a lot of work and his series against Australia was phenomenal. He has bowled a lot, but he’s had his rest and is back and fully fit to continue.”
Henderson said reverse swing had been critical in the past series against Sri Lanka, so he’s expecting it to be a factor again, which is when the returning Dale Steyn will be a factor with Rabada.
“Steyn is a champion who’s proved himself in the past. He bowls reverse swing, which will be important in this series.
“It’s been nice to see him play in county cricket and do well. He’s not finished yet - he’s got those three wickets for the record and who knows, maybe 500 wickets is next.”
Henderson sounded a lot less concerned about how the retired AB de Villiers would be replaced in the team.
“AB was phenomenal for South African cricket, but we have to look at the future,” he said.
“Theunis de Bruyn has patiently waited his turn and Heinrich Klaasen has been good. I’m sure we’ll discuss it when we get to Sri Lanka, but one guy retiring is another’s opportunity to do something special. It’ll take time, but nobody’s irreplaceable.”