Former Northwood Boy’s High pupil Keshav Maharaj has a useful lower batting order Test average of 18.91 and a Test bowling average 26.33, with 51 wickets. Photo: BackpagePix
It was just over a year ago that Keshav Maharaj was dropped for South Africa’s maiden pink-ball Test under the Adelaide floodlights.

At the time Maharaj was just two matches into his Test career after debuting against Australia at the Waca and being part of the series-winning side in Hobart.

However, Maharaj’s exclusion had less to do with his form - he was solid if not spectacular in his first two Tests - but rather with South Africa’s fascination that the pink ball behaved entirely different to the red ball.

In came left-arm chinaman bowler Tabraiz Shamsi for his Test debut in the hope that the Titans star could cast a spell over the Aussies like he had in a couple of ODI’s in the Caribbean earlier in the year.

The gamble failed to reap the desired rewards, with Shamsi neither providing the control nor wicket-taking ability Maharaj had.

It seems, though, South Africa have learnt valuable lessons from that experiment, with Maharaj now firmly entrenched as the Proteas No 1 spinner - regardless of the colour of the ball - for this week’s Boxing Day Test against Zimbabwe at St George’s Park.

“I am glad to be in the squad, but I don’t have any expectations. I have simply tried to put in performances for the team over the last 12 months. I think I try to improve all the time by keeping it simple and focusing on doing the basic things right. It is only the start of my career and it has gone by really quickly, but I just try to keep doing the simple things right,” Maharaj said.

This uncomplicated approach to his task has certainly served the 27-year-old well. Maharaj has claimed 51 wickets in just 13 Tests at an average of 26.33, which includes two “five-fors” already.

Equally, he has conceded just 2.92 runs per over, which is vitally important to South Africa’s overall strategy as it provides Proteas captain Faf du Plessis the security of the run-rate remaining intact at one end while the skipper gives his fast bowlers the license to strike from the other.

Maharaj’s numbers are even more impressive considering the left-arm spinner has yet to play a Test on the subcontinent. Both “five-fors” were achieved in New Zealand, while he was one of the few Proteas to enhance his reputation on the disastrous tour of England.

Much of the Maharaj’s success is due to the economy of his action and the ability to repeat it continuously.

“I think I am an old-fashioned spinner,” Maharaj said candidly. “I just try to stick to a good line and length. I think I am a spinner of minimal variation. I try to construct an over, vary my flight and pace. I also have a have a good support structure in terms of spin bowling coach Claude Henderson, and also video analyst Prasanna Agoram. They give me lots of info on my bowling and the opposition.”

Although it would be unfair to write off the Zimbabweans, especially considering the Test will be the first played over four days and also under lights, where the ball does tend to swing and seam more, the main course of the summer awaits in the New Year when the World No 1 India team arrives.

Every Test spinner worth his salt knows he can only be properly evaluated after a series against India, who are reared on a buffet of slow bowlers, and particularly left-arm spinners.

With South Africa set to unleash a battery of fast bowlers at Virat Kohli and his team, India will most likely target Maharaj as the premier source of run scoring.

“There’s no doubt they will look to put me under pressure. They are great players of spin,” Maharaj said. “But I am really looking forward to the challenge India will provide. I will just try to keep things simple.”

Sunday Tribune

Like us on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter