GALLE, Sri Lanka - At the Galle International Stadium, the players’ family enclosure is just to the left of the Media Centre. On the first day of the last Test, it certainly was a hive of activity with many of Proteas’ relatives present to catch some of their loved ones in action. One man, though, who could not find rest was Athmanand Maharaj.
Father of Proteas spinner Keshav Maharaj, Athmanand was either glued to every ball his son delivered or pacing around at the back. It seemed like he lived every moment of the left-armer’s spell. Having counselled those in the know, it seems like this is how it’s been since the moment Keshav was old enough to bowl.
“My dad has always been my biggest fan and critic,” Keshav told Independent Media. “It was nice for them to come out and support me on my first tour of the subcontinent. It is always good to have a mental break after a hard, long day in the field. Just chat about different things, sometimes you need that down time.”
Whatever Maharaj senior and his son chatted about over dinner seemed to have the desired effect for Keshav turned around an indifferent display in the first innings to claim 4/58 in Sri Lanka’s second innings. It wasn’t enough to prevent the Proteas from succumbing to a 278-run defeat, but it provided the tourists with hope that their first-choice spinner was beginning to adapt to the conditions.
“I didn’t have one ball under my belt (before the first Test). I was sick for the warm-up game. Luckily I pulled it back in the second innings. We know our ability to bounce back. There were a lot of positives to take (to Colombo),” he said.
Considering Maharaj is enjoying his maiden trip to the subcontinent, the left-armer’s record is remarkable. The 28-year-old has already claimed 78 wickets in 21 Tests, including four “five-fors”. However, the pressure of bowling on the subcontinent is different to back home, as the left-armer is now expected to take wickets.
“There is a lot of expectation because the wickets take turn,” he admitted. “But I put enough pressure on myself. So, I just need make sure the ball lands in the right areas consistently. I also chat to our coaches like Claude (Henderson), and a few ex-players. I spoke to Rangana (Herath) the last time he was in South Africa. It is important to want to continue learning as young cricketers.”
Keshav also found himself in alien territory during the first Test with left-arm chinaman bowler Tabraiz Shamsi selected as the second specialist spinner. It was the first time since Nagpur 2015 that the national team have field two spinners. Shamsi unfortunately had to return home this week due to family commitments, but Keshav certainly enjoyed being one half of South Africa’s “spin twins”.
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“Shamo and I have played domestic cricket together before, so we know each other well and complement each other really nicely in terms of our plans. He is an exceptional bowler, with all the things he can do with the ball. Obviously, I’m not accustomed to it because doesn’t happen very often, but I am glad I get to have the opportunity.”
The Proteas left Galle on Tuesday for Colombo in search of net facilities for some much-needed practice. They have been unable to train for the past couple of days due to rain.