JOHANNESBURG - Another spin bowling masterclass from South Africa’s slow bowlers saw the Proteas claim a series win against Sri Lanka on Sunday that will provide some much-needed confidence ahead of the T20 World Cup.
The spin bowling strategy is not one most rival cricket nations, nor many who follow the Proteas, would associate with them. But in addition to the fast bowling resources for which South Africa is better known, in recent years a stock of spinners has been created and with the T20 World Cup expected to be played on worn, spin friendly tracks in the UAE and neighbouring states and the next 50-over World Cup to be hosted by India, Cricket SA and their high performance managers deserve some praise for the foresight they have shown in creating that kind of depth.
It has meant that the selectors can make some questionable decisions. There was a time, not so long ago, when there weren’t many options, so decisions about who would play were easy - not so any more.
That has meant there is stiff competition for spots if you’re a frontline spinner, while in the case of Aiden Markram, who bowls part-time off-spin, creating an extra string to his bow, that increases his value to the team.
Of the 18.1 overs the South African bowled at Sri Lanka on Sunday, 77% were sent down by spinners, with another bad day for Kagiso Rabada - who conceded 29 runs in two overs - offset by the brilliance of the spinners, with Makrakm bowling his full set of four overs, while stand-in skipper Keshav Maharaj only needed to bowl 2.1 overs.
Bjorn Fortuin continued to allay fears about his presence in that squad for the T20 World Cup. Opening the bowling as usual, the left-arm spinner, showed excellent control in his single over in the Power Play, and then returned later in the innings to claim two wickets.
Tabraiz Shamsi, though, was the star as has often been the case this year, as he climbed the ladder to being the format’s no1 bowler.
Now comfortable in that position, the wrist spinner produced a sublime spell at the Premadasa Stadium that included a lively two ball battle with the Sri Lankan skipper, Dasun Shanaka to start the 10th over. Shanaka had smashed the first ball of the over for a massive straight six, drawing the now customary stare from the always lively Shamsi.
The next ball was slightly quicker and fuller, and spun between Shanaka’s bat and pad, knocking back middle stump. Shamsi crouched and roared at the Sri Lankan captain letting him know emphatically who won that battle.
He produced an even better ball to Chamika Karunaratne, that spun from 30cm outside the right hander’s off-stump, zipped through the gap between the bat and pad, and clipped the top of leg-stump. Shamsi finished with 3/20, bowling 13 dot balls, and his value to the South African team continues to grow.
Maharaj again utilised his bowling resources smartly. Markram, who didn’t bowl a ball in the first match last Friday, claimed 3/21 on Sunday, two of those wickets coming via schoolboy errors from Bhanuka Rajapaksa and Charith Asalanka, who both chipped the ball straight back to the bowler.
Sri Lanka’s total was woefully inadequate, and openers Quinton de Kock and Reeza Hendricks ensured there’d be no jitters in the tourists dressing room, by knocking off nearly half of the target inside the power play.
De Kock was in typically aggressive mood, driving purposefully, before switching to the sweep - both conventional and reverse - when the Sri Lankan spinners got to work.
The openers, notched up a second consecutive, half-century stand, putting on 62 in 8.2 overs before Hendricks, top edged a sweep against Wanindu Hasaranga, that was comfortably caught by wicketkeeper Dinesh Chandimal after making 18.
De Kock, finished on 57 not out (48d, 7x4) - a tenth T20 International half-century, further underlining the excellent form he’s been in since the West Indies tour earlier this year.
It was South Africa’s sixth consecutive T20 win, a sequence that started with the deciding match against the defending World Cup winners, the West Indies, in July.
The final match of the series will be played on Tuesday.