Cape Town - David Pithey is 80, which makes him some 53 years older than the Proteas’ current frontline Test spinner Keshav Maharaj.
But that figure of 53 has additional pertinence: it is how many years had passed - until Friday, a memorable, milestone day for Maharaj - since a slow bowler grabbed a five-wicket haul for South Africa in a Test match in New Zealand.
Off-spinner Pithey, born in Salisbury in then-Rhodesia, picked up six for 58 in 35 overs of pretty marathon industry in the NZ second innings of the second Test of 1963/64 ... also in Dunedin, where SA are in the throes of gripping present battle, albeit at the old Carisbrook venue rather than University Oval.
It was a weather-plagued clash in a 0-0 shared three-Test series which South Africa, skippered by Trevor Goddard, were very unfortunate not to win (they ended up 42 for three in a desperate chase for only 65 runs before time ran out on them).
But no South African spinner had since managed a five-wicket analysis, until the tall, lean Maharaj (5/94) broke the drought on another fluctuating, third day’s play in the first Test.
The Proteas may even be in a slightly more favourable position than the Black Caps at stumps, leading by five runs with nine second-knock wickets in hand and buoyed by the knowledge that NZ have to bat last on an abrasive, deteriorating surface.
Of course the pretty lengthy gap period in five-fors by South Africans in New Zealand is aggravated by certain factors beyond spinners’ control - like the apartheid-induced isolation period, and the fact that seamers often prosper in the Land of the Long White Cloud to such an extent that exponents of the slower trade can be rendered redundant.
Yet the 27-year-old Maharaj bagging such a landmark haul in first-innings circumstances, in only his fifth Test, is an encouraging development.
He has now grabbed 16 scalps in four and a half Tests at an average of 29 and extremely acceptable economy rate of 2.89.
To be conceding fewer than three runs to the over at this infant stage of his Test development is a feather in his cap, even if he did serve a few rather obvious “buffet balls” during the NZ innings.
Generally his control and the thinking aspect to his bowling have been excellent, and on this gripping track he has also varied the pace of his deliveries shrewdly.
Durban-born Maharaj now has in common with a long-serving national predecessor in orthodox left-arm spin, Paul Harris, the honour of notching a maiden five-wicket haul during his fifth Test appearance.
Harris did the business (5/73), also in a first-innings situation, against Pakistan at Karachi in October 2007.
The Proteas went on to win that Test by 160 runs.
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