Proteas not keen on spinning wheels

Despite spin friendly conditions in the Caribbean, Kagiso Rabada will be at the tip of the spear in the Proteas attack. | BackpagePix

Despite spin friendly conditions in the Caribbean, Kagiso Rabada will be at the tip of the spear in the Proteas attack. | BackpagePix

Published Jul 10, 2024


Zaahier Adams

Graeme Swann once said ahead of a tour to India that “if we turn up expecting the spinner to win us the series then we’re screwed”.

The former England off-spinner always had a unique way with words, but he was certainly never far away from speaking the ugly truth. And while Swann was referencing a tour of the subcontinent, the same logic can be applied to the West Indies.

The modern-day pitches in the Caribbean may have been transformed into featherbeds that require the slow bowlers to hold up an end for significant periods of the game, but it remains the fast men that shoulder the heavy lifting of taking the majority of the wickets.

Since the Proteas’ first visit to the islands for a full Test series in 2001, it has been the pacemen on either side that have been the chief wicket-takers.

Courtney Walsh (25) held sway for the home side in that first series, while Shaun Pollock and Jacques Kallis (20 each) responded for the tourists. The trend continued four years later with Andre Nel and Makhaya Ntini (17 each) leading the way for the visitors, while Daren Powell (9) tried valiantly for the Windies.

It was only in the 2010 series when West Indies' lanky left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn turned the tables with 15 wickets, although he was evenly matched by Proteas' spearhead Dale Steyn.

Normal service resumed on the last tour in 2021 with Kagiso Rabada (11) and Kemar Roach (9) taking charge in a truncated two-match series restricted to the single Covid-19 bubble-protected Daren Sammy Stadium in St Lucia.

The Proteas are due in the Caribbean next month for another two-match series with Shukri Conrad’s red-ball team heading to Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. The Proteas have never played a Test in Guyana with the Providence Stadium only hosting two previous Tests back in 2008 and 2011 respectively.

Spin was certainly a dominant factor in the last match there, with Cricinfo describing the surface as “atoning for modern cricket's batting sins” due to its “uneven bounce and excessive turn”.

Pakistan off-spinner Saeed Ajmal claimed match-figures of 11/111, while Windies leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo also bagged 4/42 in the first innings. However, Bishoo went wicket-less in the second innings with Windies seam duo of Ravi Rampaul (4/68) and Daren Sammy (5/29) bowling their side to a famous victory.

The Proteas' 16-man squad announced on Monday covers all bases with the dual spin option of Keshav Maharaj (left-arm orthodox) and Dane Piedt (right-arm off spin) included alongside five seamers and all-rounder Wiaan Mulder.

Test coach Conrad is fully aware of the Providence Stadium’s legacy, but is not expecting Guyana to serve up a Bunsen burner.

“Historically, Guyana does spin, but I don't think you are ever going into a Test match with three spinners,” Conrad said.

“We have two (spinners) in Kesh and Piedtie. If the second spinner is required, then Piedtie will come into the equation.

“But I would be surprised if they prepare spinning tracks if you consider the array of fast bowlers they have at their disposal. Someone made the point about how good they are in their own conditions and they have a quartet of really good young fast bowlers at the moment.”

The Windies are currently facing off against England, with the first Test starting at Lord’s today, where they are likely to field an impressive seam attack consisting of vice-captain Alzarri Joseph, new pace sensation Shamar Joseph, Jayden Seales and all-rounder Jason Holder.

The experienced Roach is currently sidelined through injury and has been replaced by the promising Jeremiah Louis. Roach, 36, is though expected to be fit to the home series against the Proteas.

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