Cape Town - The South African selection committee has an abundance of options in one of the most exciting periods in recent memory regarding the choice of spinners, said Linda Zondi, chairman of the committee.
He said South Africa did not boast so much variety and depth four or five years ago. However, right now, they are spoilt for choice with Imran Tahir, Dane Piedt, Simon Harmer, Eddie Leie, Aaron Phangiso, Tabraiz Shamsi and Keshav Maharaj all in the mix.
Zondi said the recent Caribbean triangular series was a case in point in underlining South Africa’s production of top-class spinners.
“We used three spinners (in a few matches). When last did you witness that,” he added.
Remarkably enough, South Africa’s reticence in utilising spinners as specialists may have been a factor for decades, fed by ill luck in tests.
In 1993/94, South Africa used two spinners in the first test against Sri Lanka, Pat Symcox and Clive Eksteen. They dropped Eksteen for the remaining two tests, and the quartet of Allan Donald, Brett Schultz, Brian McMillan and Richard Snell propelled South Africa to a 1-0 test series win with Schultz particularly destructive.
In the 2000 series against India, Eksteen and Nicky Bojé were inserted for the first test at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai and South Africa won the test thanks mainly to their excellent seam bowling with Shaun Pollock, Donald and Mornantau Hayward on song in tandem with Hansie Cronjé.
South Africa doubled India’s misery in the second test in Bangalore where Eksteen was dropped and Bojé produced a match-winning performance. Again, the fast bowlers were street smart in their execution and South Africa hardly needed the second spinner.
Zondi said he is upbeat about the flexibility of the spinners, and the fact that they could feature across different formats.
It was evident last year when Tahir was penciled in against India and produced a five-wicket haul in an innings. Tahir captured his 100th one-day International wicket in only his 58th match for South Africa, a testimony of his world-class stature in this format. He recently nabbed out 3-13 for Nottinghamshire in his first match in the NatWest T20 Blast against Northamptonshire.
Shamsi took 41 wickets in the previous Sunfoil Series at an average of 19.97 and looked at home in international company in the Caribbean triangular series for South Africa. In his first match, against Australia, he took 1-38, but three plumb leg-before-wicket-shouts were not answered in the affirmative.
Collectively, Tahir and Shamsi have taken more than 1 000 first-class wickets. The 37-year old Tahir has featured with 746 dismissals, including 50 five-wicket hauls, while Shamsi has nipped out 272 batsmen in 68 first-class matches.
Zondi has said the variety of all the slow bowlers are commendable, because the national selection committee has every basis covered. “We have left-arm spin, off-spin, legspinners and a left-arm wrist spinner.
“Obviously we have to look at different roles in our endeavors to capture 20 wickets per test match.
“All these bowlers can jump across formats, but we also have to make sure we give individuals time to develop,” he said.
“I think our variety of spinners and bowling allrounders are factors which could help to propel us back to the top of the test rankings.”
Asked if South Africa would consider using one spinner and three fast bowlers a la Australia 15 seasons ago in the foreseeable future, Zondi answered: “There is only one Shane Warne.”
Warne fulfilled the role of holding bowler and strike bowler to perfection, and was selected as one of the five players of the 20th century alongside Don Bradman, Viv Richards, Jack Hobbs and Garfield Sobers.
Piedt captured 39 wickets in the 2015/2016-season at an average of 22.33, while Maharaj was commendable for the Sunfoil Dolphins and Harmer was the major strike force for the Warriors.
Yet, South Africa will have to look at options carefully before the New Zealand series and consider the X-factor among the spinners. In this regard, the wrist spinners, Leie, Tahir and Shamsi, hold a decisive advantage. Leie is one of the finest exponents of the googly in South Africa alongside Tahir and Shamsi. The trio can bamboozle lower-order batsmen with contemptuous ease.
It was prevalent in Shamsi’s 12-85 against the Cape Cobras last season, and in his 12-173 against the Warriors. He is currently leading the bowling averages of the St Kitts and Nevis Patriots with six wickets in five matches.
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