Newlands: Can Proteas do without Keshav?

2018-12-29 15:21
Keshav Maharaj
Keshav Maharaj (AP)

Cape Town – Playing a Test at Newlands without a specialist spinner would have been considered utterly sacrilegious up to a couple of years ago … many would argue it still is.

But entering the second encounter with Pakistan over New Year with lone squad specialist in that department Keshav Maharaj not in the Proteas’ XI may well be at least contemplated by the brains trust in the lead-up.

It would be one way, after all, of ensuring that South Africa, 1-0 to the good after SuperSport Park, could stick with their current “seven batsmen” strategy while fielding a four-strong, high-quality all-seam bowling arsenal and not having to drop Centurion player-of-the-match Duanne Oliver (11/96) to accommodate the expected fit-again, proven superstar Vernon Philander.

Traditionally, Newlands has cried out for at least one frontline spinner in the mix, and with the weather outlook appearing to be sunny and warm for the Test match at this point – providing extra scope for break-up and increasingly visible foot-holes as the game progresses – not fielding left-armer Maharaj would certainly represent a significant risk.

There could also be potential for even more egg on the face of the SA strategists if Pakistani leg-spin ace Yasir Shah – much improved in the second innings at SuperSport Park and clearly coming gradually to grips with conditions in the country – proves significantly bothersome.

So the home nation not employing Maharaj at Newlands is, you would think, a relatively long shot.

That said, there may well be enough in the deck for the South African faster men – a line-up of Philander, Steyn, Rabada and Olivier would have a seriously oomph-laden, no-let-up look to it – to be able to do the 20-wickets task without the aid of a spinner even if there is some turn on offer.

The Proteas, in that scenario, would at least have a couple of part-time spin options in the shape of opening batsmen Dean Elgar (left-arm) and Aiden Markram (off-breaks).

Why the fairly radical move is also worth mulling over, is that over the course of the past three Newlands Test matches (two of them New Year affairs, and all of the trio won by South Africa) spinners have played a relatively limited, subdued role … whether for the home or visiting cause.

The Proteas have played Maharaj all three times (Australia and India last season, Sri Lanka the one before) and he has come out with the relatively lean haul of five wickets, at an average of 39.00, while seamers have usually been the bowlers hogging the limelight in dismissals terms.

Especially in last summer’s victories over the Aussies (by 322 runs) and India (72 runs), the 28-year-old from the Dolphins has found himself used quite sparingly at the venue.

Maharaj was required for a skimpy 10 overs in total against Virat Kohli’s troops (6-0-20-0 and 4-1-12-0), while against the Baggy Greens he was only a bit more active: 12-3-35-0 and 12-2-32-2.

On that statistical basis, omitting him for the Pakistan clash suddenly doesn’t seem such madness.

While I wouldn’t bet too much on Maharaj’s side-lining from January 3, the possibility could just swirl teasingly in the minds of Proteas head coach Ottis Gibson and other senior personnel in the camp.

A more feasible alternative, if SA feel a five-man attack (including the spinner) is worth installing, stays arguably the trimming of one batsman …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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


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