Aiden Markram wants more ‘game-changing spells’ from Proteas spinners

Keshav Maharaj celebrates getting a wicket

FILE - The conditions certainly favoured Proteas spinners Tabraiz Shamsi and Keshav Maharaj (pictured) against Australia in Potchefstroom on Tuesday, but they still needed to land the ball in the right areas to fully maximise assistance off the surface. Photo: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Published Sep 14, 2023


The Proteas have an all-consuming obsession with the World Cup.

To be fair, it is driven primarily by the public’s fixation with a tournament that is regarded as the sole barometer of success.

It is almost on the same level of hysteria as the Proteas’ infatuation with fast bowlers.

Since South Africa’s reintroduction to international cricket at the 1992 World Cup, the Proteas relied on loose-limbed athletes to knock over the opposition with their 145km/h deliveries.

This was certainly the intended desire at the last one-day international World Cup in the UK four years ago, when former national team coach Ottis Gibson – lover of all things fast – had high hopes of unleashing his quick bowlers.

But that all came to nothing when Anrich Nortje was ruled out prior to departure, and an ageing Dale Steyn’s shoulder caused him to head home without even bowling a ball.

The scenario facing the Proteas ahead of next month’s World Cup in India is eerily similar.

Nortje is once again struggling with back spasms and is not playing against Australia, while Sisanda Magala has only just been nursed back into action after a knee ailment.

The greater concern, though, is that Proteas limited-overs coach Rob Walter is following Gibson’s mantra of reverting to pace as his X-factor – hence rookie Gerald Coetzee’s inclusion, despite the tournament being staged on the sub-continent.

Walter stated at the Proteas World Cup squad announcement that “we really want to have four high quality fast bowlers on the park at most times”, because “that's a strategy that cricket in South Africa has done well with”.

While Walter may have spent the best part of the last seven years in New Zealand, he would have access to a statistician to point out that the latter part of his viewpoint is not entirely factual – especially during the 3-0 whitewash of Australia during the last ODI series in South Africa in 2020, when only two specialist pacemen were called upon, along with a seambowling all-rounder.

The bulk of the heavy lifting was done by spin twins Tabraiz Shamsi and Keshav Maharaj, and the all-round capabilities of Jon-Jon Smuts, who batted in the top order and delivered left-arm spin.

This was pretty much the same combination and team balance the Proteas put together in Potchefstroom on Tuesday to arrest a run of five straight defeats to Australia.

Fast-bowling rookie Coetzee may have claimed 4/50, but the gamechangers were spinners Shamsi (2/29) and Maharaj (2/37).

After also opening with Potch centurion Aiden Markram’s offspinners, the pair tightened the noose around the Australian middle order after a David Warner onslaught early on.

The conditions certainly favoured Shamsi and Maharaj, but they still needed to land the ball in the right areas to fully maximise assistance off the surface.

Considering the Proteas’ success when fielding two specialist spinners along with Markram’s tidy off-spin, it is hoped that Walter may re-evaluate his thoughts around leaning towards pace.

Markram, though, feels that the Proteas will adopt a “horses-for-courses” approach going forward.

“We are blessed to have some really good quicks in the country, so it’s about trying to adapt to the conditions and determining in which conditions your quicks will win you games, and your spinners maybe playing a controlling role,” Markram said after the 111-run victory at the JB Marks Oval on Tuesday.

“And then you get conditions similar to where the spinners will win you the games, and the quicks can chip in here and there and keep control of the rate.

“But I think if you look at the two of them (at Potchefstroom), it was proper game-changing spells.

“They will have to dovetail, they (the spinners) have been under a bit of pressure – but it has not been for a lack of trying and planning.

“They will be relieved to put in a bowling performance like that together as a unit.

“It is a good sign moving forward, especially going to a World Cup in India, where hopefully the conditions will suit the spinners.”