Maharaj set for WACA Test debut?

2016-11-01 12:10
Keshav Maharaj (Gallo).

Cape Town - If the Proteas go into the first Test against Australia in Perth on Thursday with a spinner, it will surely be Keshav Maharaj. 

The wicket at the WACA historically favours the quicks and has a reputation for being one of the the bounciest tracks on the planet. 

As a result, there is always a temptation to go into the match with as many fast bowlers as possible, sacrificing the spinner.

But a look at recent history suggests that may be a little short-sighted. 

The Proteas have fond memories of the ground, having registered wins in 2008 and 2012. 

And, in both of those Test matches, the Proteas backed spin.

In 2008 Paul Harris registered match figures of 5/155 and four years later Robin Peterson went 6/171. 

Those were obviously welcomed returns from a South African point of view, but this time around the selection of a spinner may be more about tying up one end than taking wickets.

With the Australian top-order predominantly right-handed, the Proteas selectors backed two left-arm spinners for the tour. 

Dane Piedt was unlucky to miss out, but the South African plan in opting for Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi was clear.  

Now, after having had a look at both of those rookies in the two warm-ups Down Under, Maharaj has emerged as the favourite to play. 

It is hard to read too much into these two-day hit-arounds, but Shamsi was far too loose and expensive to be entrusted with a Test debut on a pitch that will be completely unforgiving on anything short or over-pitched. 

In the second warm-up against a South Australia XI, Shamsi was 0/87 (11) while Maharaj was 3/59 (17.2). 

Form in these matches shouldn't really count for too much in Test selection, but Maharaj looks more equipped to hold up one end in the way that Harris did to such good effect during his day. 

Getting through overs quickly and economically can be instrumental in building up pressure, and that is exactly what Faf du Plessis will want from Maharaj should he be selected. 

Of course, going that route means that one of the quicks would have to be sidelined. 

With Dale Steyn the trump card, Kagiso Rabada the speedster and Vernon Philander the proven success, the likeliest casualty is Morne Morkel. 

Morkel has taken 6 wickets at an average of 33 over his last two Tests at the WACA and remains an incredibly attractive option with his pace and height, but it just seems far too risky to go into the match without a holding spinner. 

Even the Aussies have been reluctant in recent times to go into a WACA Test without spin.

Nathan Lyon has played in all of the last three Tests at the venue and you'd have to go back to the 2012 series against India to find the last time Australia played a Test in Perth without a front-line spinner. 

So, all things considered, a Maharaj debut is looking more and more likely.

"That's going to be left to the selection panel. I don't really know. I'm just trying to do my business and hopefully I do enough to crack the nod," he said from Perth on Monday.

Putting a rookie up for a press opportunity on the week of a Test is cruel if he is not going to play ... another sign that Maharaj is on the verge of selection?

"I'm anxious. I want to play my first Test ... but it comes down to putting our best team out there," he said.

"There is going to be a lot of nerves but I just have to try and block out everything that's around me."

His answer when asked about the WACA wicket favouring the fast bowlers in times past was quietly confident.

"Hopefully that can change," he said.

Test debuts are never easy, but away to Australia at the WACA when you're a spinner is about as tough as it gets. 

Read more on:    proteas  |  keshav maharaj  |  cricket


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