Spin-bowling all-rounder George Linde made a surprise Test debut in India when Keshav Maharaj was ruled out with a shoulder injury, but could the two ever play in the same Test XI?
The tour to India seems to have completely muddied the waters when it comes to picking the Proteas best spinners, but after his record-breaking start, Maharaj looks to be a fixture for the time being at least.
The best way for Linde to break into the Proteas team might be to command a position in the top six. Here he could take some inspiration from the white-ball specialists who have fought their way into the England team.
The Proteas top six often give the impression they are sitting ducks, unable to escape the inevitable build-up of pressure in the game’s longest format. England’s all-rounders and lower-middle order have achieved some success offsetting the conservative approach of their top four with counterattacking batting. Linde could provide some much-needed support for the likes of Quinton de Kock and Temba Bavuma and he has proven to be a reliable enough bowler.
Linde showed glimpses of promise with the bat in Ranchi while also achieving a consistency to his bowling that shattered misconceptions about players who are viewed as limited-overs specialists. His 4/133 was hardly match-winning, but proved he could do a job for Faf du Plessis in trying circumstances.
While Maharaj didn’t have the best tour of India, he is still the best choice for the Proteas as a slow-bowling option, and the only reason he might lose out on a place in the Test XI could be to wedge in another batsman or at least an all-rounder – or to field an all-pace attack.
England’s fragility against spin, South African pitches increasing proclivity to take turn, and the recent losses in the quick bowling stocks to retirements and Kolpak deals make this unlikely.
Left-arm orthodox spin is not the most fashionable of bowling styles and that bias does have an effect on selection, with two southpaws rarely selected in the same outfit. The Proteas used two on the tour of India, though, with all-rounder Senuran Muthusamy debuting in a Test team that included his Dolphins teammate Maharaj. You could say that the Proteas fielded three left-arm orthodox spinners in the first Test against India, but that would involve stretching the definition to include Dean Elgar’s brand of round-arm filth.
The most likely catalyst for Linde and Maharaj to be named in the same XI would be a string of injuries to South Africa’s quicks, in particular all-rounders like Vernon Philander, Wiaan Mulder or Andile Phehlukwayo. Even on South African wickets, selectors could be tempted to play two left-arm spinners if the alternative means giving Chris Morris another crack at Test cricket.
As good as Maharaj has been, he might also become a victim of circumstance and the weakness of the Proteas batting could see Linde preferred ahead of the man who already has 100 Test wickets to his name.
England might be more likely to deploy double-spin in the shape of leg-spinning all-rounder Matt Parkinson and their own left-arm orthodox spin agent Jack Leach. Parkinson has displaced Proteas tormentor Moeen Ali from the Test squad. Both were in the squad that faced New Zealand, but Leach played only the first Test and Parkinson has yet to debut in the ultimate format.
As far as the wider Proteas squad is concerned, it would appear to be the sensible approach to have both Linde and Maharaj in the group while the rest of the country’s spinners should continue to hone their craft in the first-class game.
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