Johannesburg - Highveld Lions coach Geoffrey Toyana would like to see the Proteas selectors roll the dice in putting together the starting XI for the first Test against Australia by including uncapped spinner Tabraiz Shamsi.
The Titans’ left-arm Chinaman, who grew up wanting to be a magician but has had to settle for flummoxing batsmen with wrist spin, stands side by side with steady Dolphins left armer Keshav Maharaj as one of the best two spinners in the Proteas squad.
Both are yet to make their Test debut for SA.
But Toyana would like Shamsi, whose clash with Matthew Wade in the recently concluded ODI series suggests he’s a fast bowler trapped in a tweaker’s body, to be the first cab out of the taxi rank for his aggression.
With the pitch at Waca Stadium in Perth having been so good it allowed the Proteas to chase down 413 in 2008, the selectors are mulling whether to stockpile their bowling resources for a wicket with a reputation for being lightning fast and bouncy.
“The question is whether they’ll play a spinner, which means the selectors’ debate will be whether they play Shamsi instead of Morne Morkel,” said Toyana.
“I’d be tempted to play Shamsi because the Australian batsmen have struggled to read him and they have mental scars from playing him in the one-dayers.”
While he acknowledged Maharaj’s superior batting, accuracy, consistency and ability to turn the ball away from right handers, which is the Aussies’ latest Achilles heel, Toyana said he’d still go for Shamsi.
“Keshav has done well over the last two seasons, but so has Shamsi. I watched him in first-class cricket last season and he was unplayable. Shamsi has an X-factor, which we’ll need in that first Test.”
For all their recent struggles with spin, Toyana said the Aussies would come out and play aggressively against Shamsi (“We saw how they played Imran Tahir the last time we toured there.”), which he felt would suit the spinner’s fire-with-fire approach.
Toyana said if he was fit and in good form, Morkel had to play if the selectors decided to go with four fast bowlers...the other three being Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada. Morkel has only recently come back from long-term injury, playing just one domestic four-day game for the Titans before his selection.
“I know that Kyle [Abbott, the other seamer in the equation] has never let the country down but he’s always the guy that gets dropped,” said Toyana.
“But with his height and bounce, the wickets in Australia should be suited to Morne’s game.
“The Australians have always struggled with dealing with his bounce. He has two tour games to try and get himself into some form. He should play in both and hopefully get himself into shape.”
With regards to the batting line-up, there is already a change, with Dean Elgar’s return from the ankle injury that sidelined him from the comprehensive win over New Zealand in August having ushered Stiaan van Zyl out of the touring squad.
Wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock may have tempted a few into thinking he should stay at the top of the order, thanks to scoring two half centuries after being pressed into service as an emergency opening batsman.
But Toyana, like every other expert who says opening and keeping is a crippling workload to carry, is having none of it.
“Dean goes straight back in to open with Stephen Cook, with [Hashim] Amla at three, [captain Faf] Du Plessis at four, Temba [Bavuma] at five, Quinny [De Kock] at six and JP [Duminy] at seven so he can fulfil the all-rounder’s role by bowling his offspin as well.”