JOHANNESBURG - Although many have been calling for him to be picked at international level for the last few years, Shaun von Berg, feels he’s much better prepared for the highs and especially the lows that playing cricket at the highest level entails.
At 31, Von Berg got his first call up Monday to the Proteas squad that heads to Sri Lanka for two Tests next month, and the leg-spinner, often mentioned as candidate for the five-day format, believes the time is just right for him, even as others have counted him as being unfortunate to be included earlier.
“To be honest, leg-spin is a difficult trade and if you are picked too early, it can be difficult to deal with things if they are not going well. Obviously a few years back I was disappointed, when I thought I was bowling well, not to get picked, but actually looking back it made me a better cricketer,” said Von Berg. “I will know better how to deal with things if they don’t go well on the field than I would have say five or seven years ago, and that is important for your mindset.”
Many ex-players and senior teammates at his franchise the Titans, have been hailing Von Berg’s prowess, highlighting his consistency, control and wicket-taking ability as being aspects that the Proteas couldn’t ignore. Except the selectors did and when one looks at the success that Keshav Maharaj has had in the last two years, their decision can’t be argued with.
However in the sub-continent where conditions are likely to be very dry and spin-friendly, Linda Zondi and his panel have rightly assessed the need for more than just one front-line spinner, and thus Von Berg gets his chance. He’s played 96 first class matches and has taken 345 wickets and in recent seasons, he’s been an influential part of the Titans success, particularly in the first class competitions.
Last season he picked up 29 wickets at an average of 41.75 as the Titans won the Sunfoil Series and if that latter stat is maybe not as low as it should be it is worth remembering that pitches in the country last season, particularly in the first half of the summer, were overwhelmingly batting friendly.
Von Berg says his consistency and especially the control of his stock delivery – the leg spinner – is his major weapon. “It’s about hitting the same spot over and over and that’s something that’s worked for me. It’s easier for the captain to set fields, if he knows you can pitch that leg spinner on or wide of off-stump, you allow the captain to control the game that way.”
Which doesn’t mean he has no tricks up his sleeve – being a leg-spinner would be no fun without being able to bowl googlies, sliders and top spinners – but Von Berg chooses the moments to go into his variations carefully. “I’ve had that criticism about not using my variations enough, but I feel it brings inconsistency. I’m more likely to use a googly or slider against the tail-enders who are not as well equipped to face that stuff, although I do like using the variation as a surprise element for the top order too, but I feel consistency with the ‘leggie’ is more important.”