Johannesburg - Last Friday, South African fast bowling became a victim of ‘cancel culture’.
In the land of Donald, Steyn, Pollock, Ntini and Rabada, left-arm spinners were opening the bowling at the Wanderers, and part-time spinners were taking wickets, including one whose primary job is wicket-keeping.
Meanwhile, at a Test match in Durban that same day, off-spinner Simon Harmer was busy picking up four wickets on day two against Bangladesh at Kingsmead.
It was enough to bring tears to the eyes of teachers and coaches. What was going on? Was this an elaborate cricketing April Fools joke? Had the ‘woke spinners mob’ led by Paul Adams, Robin Peterson and Paul Harris, who for years operated in the shadows, finally come for some revenge at the end of the 2021/22 season?
At Kingsmead, Harmer and Keshav Maharaj turned the screw even more on the Bangladeshis, who are supposed to have grown up facing this stuff. That pair took just 19 overs to bowl a subcontinent team out in the fourth innings.
“I think it was a big crime on our part to give wickets to spinners on foreign soil,” an anguished Bangladesh captain Mominul Haque said.
“You simply cannot give wickets to spinners when you are on tour. You have to score runs against spinners.”
Even Dean Elgar said that South Africa preferred winning Tests with fast bowlers. But he was grateful to have those spin twins in his starting line-up.
It has taken South Africa a long time, but cricket in this country is starting to embrace spinners better. Tabraiz Shamsi leads the attack in the limited overs formats, the path for him made smoother by Imran Tahir.
Maharaj had taken up the baton passed down from Adams to Harris, which Peterson had looked after, and in tandem with Harmer offers the Proteas a unique opportunity, particularly when it comes to playing Tests in the sub-continent.
At domestic level, Bjorn Fortuin, Prenelan Subrayen, Senuran Muthusamy, Neil Brand, Aaron Phangiso and the leg-spinner in Junaid Dawood have ensured there is a good pool of players from which the national selectors can choose.
As Kingsmead showed, it is critical to South African cricket that the national team doesn’t become one dimensional. Maharaj admitted that part of the reason some of his wicket-taking celebrations were so emotional was the feeling that has grown in the national team over the last decade that they can’t play at Kingsmead.
“Our record here is not great,” Maharaj said. “I was very happy to help change that mindset and hopefully get everyone wanting to come and play more cricket here at Kingsmead.”
And by extension getting everyone to appreciate the skills and tactics involved to make spinners thrive.
Perhaps last Friday was an anomaly, maybe a sign of things to come. The next few years will indicate which.
But even as a nation in love with fast bowling, we can take a break and give the spinners their flowers.