Cape Town - Considering his exploits over the past two weeks it is hard to imagine that Keshav Maharaj was actually beginning to doubt his future role in the Proteas Test side.
Leading into the first Test against Bangladesh at his home-ground Kingsmead, Maharaj had only played a bit-part over the course of the season. Although the selectors opted to retain him in the starting XI even when conditions may have dictated otherwise during the home series against India, Maharaj was used sparingly and only bowled 32 overs and claimed just one wicket across the three Tests.
In fact, he sent down just two overs – one in each innings – in the second Test at the Wanderers.
His services were then deemed surplus to requirements in the first Test against New Zealand in Christchurch where a green-tinged seaming deck greeted the Proteas at Hagley Oval. Although recalled for the second match, where he played a pivotal role in the Proteas levelling the series against the Black Caps by striking an invaluable 36 at No 10 in the first innings before claiming 3/75 on the final day, there was now an altogether different proposition to face upon returning home.
South Africa’s prodigal son Simon Harmer was back in the reckoning after returning from his stint as a Kolpak for Essex in the English County Championship. And after seven years in international isolation, Harmer would make his Test comeback alongside the Maharaj at Kingsmead.
In almost fairytale fashion for Harmer, the off-spinner claimed the first four Bangladesh wickets to fall while Maharaj went wicketless for 37 overs.
It was at this stage that the mind-games began with Maharaj in need of a reality check from his captain Dean Elgar to set him back on the right path.
“After not picking up wickets in the first innings at Durban, Dean and the coach (Mark Boucher) had a chat with me (after the first innings of the first Test). They said you're doing the right thing and your time will come, there will be a situation in the second innings and ever since I have not looked back,” Maharaj said.
“I was just trying to do the right things. I have just repeated my processes from the time I started playing domestic cricket, few minor tweaks here and there. I am happy enough to be getting the reward.”
The pep talk certainly did wonders for Maharaj’s confidence as he has butchered the record books since. The 32-year-old became South Africa’s leading spin bowler since re-admission, surpassing left-arm wrist-spinner Paul Adams, in the second innings in Durban when he claimed 7/32.
It was an emotional moment for the Maharaj family with his doting father, Athmanand, applauding his son from the President’s Suite.
"I love playing cricket at Kingsmead. Kingsmead is my home," he said. "To have my family witness me help the team over the line is even more special to me."
The Kingsmead victory was also the first time two South African spinners bowled through an entire innings to claim all 10 wickets with Harmer also bagging three.
To prove it was no fluke Maharaj and Harmer repeated their poisonous dose the following week in Gqeberha by dismissing all 10 Bangladeshi’s again at St George’s Park. There was another seven-for for Maharaj, who reached 150 Test wickets in the process and is now only 20 behind South Africa’s all-time leading spinner Hugh Tayfield.
The Maharaj-Harmer combination is also only the second pair to take all 10 wickets while bowling unchanged on two occasions in the history of Test cricket. The St George’s Park bounty pushed their combined tally to 29 for the series.
Instead of being intimidated about the future where the Proteas may revert to playing just one spinner, Maharaj is excited to be bowling in tandem with Harmer on the next tour to England.
"Simon has done an excellent job. There was pressure on him, coming back to international cricket and he showed why he is a world class performer. Really happy and pleased for him, I know there will be a time he will get a lot more rewards,” Maharaj said.
"It's nice to learn how he sees things and I would think he likes to learn how I see things. We can see the way he is bowling, it's world class - his shape on the ball, his trajectories, his lines and lengths and also the way he thinks about things on the field is quite remarkable and an asset to this team."