Proteas problem: Oversupply of left-arm spin

2020-04-15 18:21
Keshav Maharaj
Keshav Maharaj (Gallo Images)

The recent retirement of off-spinner Dane Piedt from national contention, to pursue a new career in the developing United States cricket set-up, has left South Africa with a bigger predicament in the void than many may realise.

Now 30, so potentially still with plenty of play ahead of him, the former Cape Cobras stalwart leaves the Proteas with an undesirable imbalance in their slow-bowling resources: a primary cupboard overwhelmingly made up of left-arm orthodox customers.

The last time South Africa played Tests in traditionally spin-friendly conditions - the 3-0 drubbing in India early in the bumpy 2019/20 season - Piedt at very least provided variety through his specific trade.

Otherwise, the three main spinners used in the generally futile quest to curtail India’s renowned stroke-players were all left-arm: their well-established, top-rated spinner Keshav Maharaj, plus rookies Senuran Muthusamy and George Linde.

Linde only arrived for the final Test after Maharaj suffered a shoulder injury, doing well enough on hasty debut at Ranchi: he bagged 4/133 in the host nation’s lone required knock (they won by an innings) of almost 500.

It left him with a decent, though perhaps slightly deceptive series average of 33.25 ... well better than the rather bruising statistics recorded by all of Maharaj (85.66, two Tests), Muthusamy (90.00, two Tests) and Piedt (155.00, two Tests).

That series would prove the last time Piedt, after nine Tests since 2014, represented his country.

He steps down with an essentially moderate record of 26 wickets at 45.19, and will be better remembered for effectiveness in the earliest portion of his five-day career: he picked up four-wicket hauls, at very least, in four of his first six bowling innings, variously against Zimbabwe, India and England before tapering off fairly profoundly.

But he does leave the Proteas, going forward, with a dearth of seasoned off-break options.

Just as a mighty Australian side of a few years ago struggled more often than not with the notion of fielding together two leg-spinners in a Test match - despite them being the sublime Shane Warne and excellent Stuart MacGill - South Africa would be even less well-advised to enter any Test too readily with a pair of conventional left-armers, coming from a similar angle and seeking the identical rough, in their XI.

It is almost always just too strategically "samey", for want of a better word, and that was only underlined in the two Tests in India (Visakhapatnam and Pune) where senior figure Maharaj hogged the lion’s share of duty and greenhorn colleague Muthusamy found himself simply getting too few overs.

For South African pitches, where usually only one specialist spinner would be required in the home line-up, there is no harm in having either of Linde or Muthusamy potentially keeping Maharaj well on his toes for the lone berth.

But on the Subcontinent as a whole and in certain other countries, where turn is likely to be a consistent factor, the Proteas do need to find someone spinning it the other way, ideally, from Maharaj’s usual method of away from the right-hander.

Without Piedt to be able to consider now, no other off-spinner on the domestic scene springs to mind in an obvious way, although former SA U19 player Prenelan Subrayen topped the wicket list at the slightly premature close of the 2019/20 CSA 4-Day Franchise Series.

The 26-year-old had picked up 38 scalps at an average of 24.65.

A more instantly appealing prospect, however, to team up with Maharaj and provide a pleasing degree of balance to the spin arsenal if used in tandem would be Simon Harmer, Essex's celebrated Kolpak-terms "offie" who drove their County Championship trophy success last year with his stellar 83 wickets at 18.28, including as many as 10 five-wicket hauls.

Almost certainly a wiser, wilier figure now than he was when he played his first five Test matches for the Proteas (all in the 2015 calendar year, and producing a decent 20 wickets at just under 30), the 31-year-old could still offer the national cause a lot, especially as he holds a bat with some determination, too.

Harmer very recently - and seeming just a little rueful and/or cynical - made the point that he felt CSA would have to "swallow their pride" over South Africans primarily campaigning abroad if they want to see such players back in the Proteas shirt.

But for reasons listed above, any moves toward a peace pipe, as it were, would go down well with plenty of enthusiasts.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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