Keshav Maharaj has shown that he has the skill, as well as the mental strength to join and possibly surpass an elite group of South African Test spinners.
Former Proteas coach Russell Domingo has predicted that Maharaj will go on to become the best Test spinner that South Africa has ever had. Former Proteas captain Shaun Pollock has stated that South Africa have found something special in the left-arm spinner.
The stats certainly support these statements. After 12 Tests, Maharaj has taken 50 wickets at an average of 26.12. At the corresponding stage of his career, the great Shane Warne had claimed 47 wickets at 26.61.
Maharaj is yet to bowl in the spin-friendly conditions of the sub-continent. He’s racked up those impressive numbers – and turned more than a few heads – while playing for the Proteas in Australia, New Zealand, England and in South Africa.
Only four spinners have taken 100 or more Test wickets for South Africa, namely Hugh Tayfield (170 wickets in 37 Tests), Paul Adams (134 in 45), Paul Harris (103 in 37) and Nicky Boje (100 in 43). After only 12 Tests, Maharaj is halfway there.
In a recent interview with SA Cricket magazine, Maharaj went to great lengths to credit the coaching staff, his captain Faf du Plessis and the other bowlers for his success over the past 12 months. The 27-year-old said that he had confidence in his own ability. At the same time, he admitted that he was learning more about the art of spin bowling every day.
Maharaj has developed a reputation as a bowler who thinks deeply about the game. Hours are spent in front of a laptop or alongside the Proteas performance analyst, Prasanna Agoram, formulating strategies for particular batsmen. A close relationship has formed between Maharaj and Du Plessis.
‘I’m very fortunate to have a good coaching staff and a good leader in Faf.’ Maharaj said. ‘A lot of my wickets are the result of Faf reading the game so well. I try to keep it simple. Sometimes I’m there to hold, to give the fast bowlers a rest. There’s always an opportunity to pick up wickets, though.’
Those in the know believe that Maharaj has a good appreciation of his own ability and an even better understanding of the kind of role he needs to play at certain moments of a contest. The player himself has spoken about adapting to the conditions, as well as the situation in every Test.
‘Situation dictates your strategy. When you are attacking, you’re more aggressive with your field placings and with your length.
‘For me, there’s a length that’s conducive for you as a spinner, regardless of the state of the pitch. An aggressive length can stop the batsman [and keep the runs down]. If it turns from there, though, then he’s in trouble.
‘You’re also trying to play with the batsman’s mind. He might think that you’re going to change it up the next delivery.’
Maharaj should have the opportunity to add to his already impressive tally when the Proteas play the second Test against Bangladesh, a one-off game against Zimbabwe in December, and the series against India and Australia in the new year.
If Maharaj features in every one of those nine Tests, and if he continues to take wickets at the present rate, he could have between 80 and 90 wickets by early April. Not bad for a spinner who is yet to bowl in a Test on the sub-continent.
Indeed, it will be interesting to see how he fares on those dust bowls. The Proteas are set to tour Sri Lanka for a Test series next August.
‘Maybe things will change a bit down the line when we travel to the sub-continent,’ Maharaj said. ‘I may have to be more attacking. My mindset remains the same, though. I’m always looking to keep the runs down.
‘You also have to remember that us bowlers work in partnerships. Sometimes I will hold, and sometimes the fast bowler at the other end will hold. It’s a team effort.’
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