In chaotic Proteas loss, Maharaj return to form key

2019-02-18 22:00
Keshav Maharaj (Gallo)
Keshav Maharaj (Gallo)

Durban – They may pale in comparison to Kusal Perera's spectacular, match-winning 153*, but there were in fact some positives for the Proteas at Kingsmead despite their dramatic one-wicket loss to Sri Lanka in the first Test.

Quinton de Kock made half-centuries in both innings, Dale Steyn (that crazy last hour aside) looked back to his best and skipper Faf du Plessis's knock of 90 in the second innings should have taken the game away from the visitors.

Perhaps the biggest plus for the hosts, though, was the return to form of Keshav Maharaj.

It's been a tough old time for the 29-year-old.

Maharaj is incredibly highly rated by Du Plessis and the Proteas management, and since making his Test debut back in 2016 he has emerged as one of the country's most promising spin bowlers since readmission.

But with the current nature of South African wickets generally accommodating helter-skelter cricket that encourages the Proteas quicks to blast out their opposition, Maharaj's role in the Test side has recently come into question.

South Africa have always considered their fast bowlers a major strength, but that is even more the case in 2018/2019 under the leadership of coach Ottis Gibson.

Maharaj was left out of the second and third Tests against Pakistan in Cape Town and Johannesburg, respectively, and while he was brought back in for Durban last week, he only bowled three overs in the first innings against Sri Lanka.

There was a moment of clear frustration from the Dolphins man in the second innings when he fielded the ball off his own bowling and launched it back to wicketkeeper De Kock with venom.

Maharaj had been bowling well up until that point without any reward.

Thanks to a wicket that was offering some turn and the fact that Vernon Philander had been ruled out with a hamstring strain, Maharaj's role on Saturday suddenly became key.

He was finally in wickets when he had Dhananjaya de Silva and Suranga Lakmal out with successive deliveries, and at that stage it looked like Maharaj had turned it on when his skipper needed him most.

206/7, there was no realistic chance South Africa could lose and when Maharaj grabbed his third at 226/9, he looked on course to bowl his country to another Test victory.

That inexplicable 78* stand for the 10th wicket followed, and the Proteas must deal with that, but Maharaj certainly showed his worth at a time when his country needed him most.

"I thought Kesh bowled fantastically well today with unbelievable shape and rhythm," the captain offered after the match.

"I'm disappointed he didn't get more wickets, but on any other day he could have got seven and been the hero.

"He went past the bat so many times."

With the Proteas 1-0 down in the two-match series, all Du Plessis can hope for now is a win in Port Elizabeth that would allow South Africa to salvage a disappointing series draw.

That St George's Park wicket is expected to be even slower than what was dished up at Kingsmead, so Maharaj is likely to come into the game once more.

With Philander struggling, the likely selection will be to replace him with a specialist batsman in one of Theunis de Bruyn or Zubayr Hamza.

PE will be the last Test match the Proteas play until after the World Cup when they travel to India in October for a three-match series that is also their first participation in the ICC World Test Championship.

Maharaj will obviously be crucial to South Africa's chances on that tour, so seeing him find some touch at Kingsmead is good news for the Proteas.

"We're always trying to think how we can play Kesh in our side because he is a match-winner for us. I'm glad that he got an opportunity to bowl well for us," Du Plessis added.

The second and final Test gets underway on Thursday.

Read more on:    proteas  |  keshav maharaj  |  durban  |  cricket


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