Just as we were sitting bolt upright digesting the best-ever Test debut performance by a South African spinner, we are reminded of the fact that it will be another four months before we get to see the world’s No1-ranked team in action again. Thanks for nothing, International Cricket Council (ICC), aka the England/India/Australia closed club.
Dane Piedt might ‘only’ have recorded his match figures of 8-152 in the nine-wicket win over minnows Zimbabwe, achieved inside four days. It came on a Harare pitch that gave the spinner a good amount of help, but … there seemed something different about this 24-year-old’s debut.
He floated the ball up, gave it air and allowed it to grip and bounce. There was very little of the dart-it-in and hold-up-an-end approach to his approach – his domestic form suggested there wouldn’t be either – and he backed up his bowling with an athletic fielding display that even resulted in a fine reflex caught and bowled.
In a nutshell, Piedt looked like he belongs at Test level. Yes, we have to be reminded of the opposition and the helpful spinning conditions. But still. The most prolific wicket-taker in the 2013-14 domestic Sunfoil Series had been given his chance and he grabbed it with both hands. Imran Tahir, the erratic leg-spinner, might view Piedt’s debut as the moment his own Test aspirations came to an end.
Before we are quick to anoint Piedt, however, let’s reflect, on Tahir. In 15 Tests he has grabbed 40 wickets at an average of 47.17. His best figures of 5-32 came last October against Pakistan in Dubai. He never got to play against Zimbabwe, instead making his debut against Australia in late 2011 and claiming his first Test scalp in Brad Haddin, lbw, at the Wanderers.
He has dragged his economy rate down to 3.53 runs per over but that wicket-taking average is too high. There are too many ‘four balls’ and perhaps a problem he faced at Test level was that he tried to bowl too many different deliveries, instead of perfecting a stock one and throwing the others in at the right moment, like the great Shane Warne would do.
Cricinfo lists 27 different representative teams that the 35-year-old Tahir has played for, which means he has seen a lot of dressing rooms and experienced different captains, but his Test statistics just don’t justify him a spot in the Proteas lineup any more.
Which is probably why there is so much excitement around Piedt. But, we have to wait until December, when West Indies visit, before the Cape Cobras off-spinner will be in Test whites again. That sucks.
Before the first of three-Test series starts at Centurion on 17 December, the ICC have coughed up the following Test schedule:
Sri Lanka vs Pakistan (two Tests)
England vs India (the last of their FIVE Test series)
West Indies vs Bangladesh (two Tests)
Pakistan vs Australia (two Tests)
Bangladesh vs Zimbabwe (three Tests)
Pakistan vs New Zealand (three Tests)
Australia vs India (start of a FOUR-Test series)
South Africa then play West Indies in three Tests, while also in December, New Zealand and Sri Lanka meet in a two-Test series.
Piedt looks a class act, an off-spinner who wasn’t called upon to pull too many rabbits out of his bag, with his topspin and flight being good enough to bamboozle the Zimbabweans. It should also be enough to see off those West Indians, even on notoriously bouncy tracks like Centurion – where Mitchell Johnson ran through the Proteas the last time Australia were here – but the big regret is that just when we should be salivating over what the record-breaking Piedt produces next, we go back into cotton wool.
Similarly, just when we should be talking about the ideal Proteas batting line-up – especially at the top of the order where Alviro Petersen has played 33 Tests with an average of 35.83, which, in an age where the game remains balanced in favour of the batsmen, is not good enough to open for the world’s No 1 team – instead our attention turns to the ODIs while South Africans are forced to watch Test cricket from afar. Yet again.