Maharaj omission a symptom of the times under Gibson

2019-01-03 11:31
Keshav Maharaj (Gallo)
Keshav Maharaj (Gallo)

Cape Town - In the build-up to the second Test against Pakistan, Proteas speedster Kagiso Rabada suggested that the wicket at Newlands could see the contest go into a fifth and final day. 

Then, on the eve of the Test, skipper Faf du Plessis said that Newlands was a wicket that historically took well to turn. 

Yet, just after he had won the toss and opted to bowl on Thursday morning, Du Plessis announced that South Africa's first-choice spinner Keshav Maharaj had been left out. 

Instead, the Proteas would go in with a devastating pace foursome of Rabada, Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and first Test hero, Duanne Olivier. 

It's not that Maharaj had done anything wrong. He is simply not needed. 

It is surely a tough pill to swallow for the 28-year-old, who is arguably the most promising Test spinner the Proteas have unearthed since readmission. 

In 23 Tests since his debut in Australia in 2016, Maharaj has picked up 90 wickets at an average of 28.14.

Those numbers suggest that he is far more than just a left-arm, over the wicket, holding bowler. 

That is a job that he can do and has done on many occasions under Du Plessis, but it is rather Maharaj's ability to both attack and defend depending on the match situation that makes him such a valuable asset on the Test stage. 

Paul Harris averaged 37.87 in Test cricket, Imran Tahir 40.24, Nicky Boje 42.65, Paul Adams 32.87, Pat Symcox 43.32 and Robin Peterson 37.26.

It is always difficult to compare bowlers from different eras, but those numbers provide a dose of perspective in understanding just how positive Maharaj's start to Test cricket has been. 

In the first Test at Centurion, where Olivier bounced his way to match-winning figures of 11/96, Maharaj got through 14 overs in the match without taking a wicket. 

He was not needed. 

It is a symptom of the brand of Test cricket the Proteas are playing under coach Ottis Gibson. 

The 49-year-old West Indian does not hide the fact that he considers the Proteas' major strength to be their fast bowling. It is, after all, his area of expertise and when one considers the quality that the Proteas have in that department, it is easy to understand why Gibson gets excited by the likes of Steyn, Rabada and Philander. 

Another symptom of the Gibson/Du Plessis partnership has been the green, seam-friendly wickets that have been dished up in South Africa on the Test stage in the last 18 months. 

Test matches in South Africa these days, more often than not, are long since over before the contest reaches Day 5. 

It undoubtedly makes for more entertaining cricket from the spectator's point of view, and if the Proteas keep winning then it is a philosophy that is hard to argue with. 

But with each passing Test, Maharaj's role on home soil becomes more and more unclear. 

Make no mistake, whenever the Proteas are abroad, whether it be the subcontinent, the Caribbean or Australia, he will come straight back into the picture. 

But if he is not getting picked on a wicket that, by South Africa's current standards is relatively conventional, then why would he be picked on a Wanderers strip (for the third Test) that is expected to be another fast bowler's paradise?

Has Test cricket in South Africa reached a stage where quality spin bowling is no longer considered key to success? 

It certainly appears so. 

Pakistan, meanwhile, boast one of the world's best in Yasir Shah, who will be bowling in the fourth innings - should there be one - at Newlands. 

If anyone can show the value of playing a spinner in South African conditions, he can. 

Follow @LloydBurnard on Twitter ...

Read more on:    proteas  |  keshav maharaj  |  cape town  |  cricket


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