There seems to be no clear cricket reason for the continued omission of Keshav Maharaj from the Proteas T20I set-up, writes SA Cricket magazine editor RYAN VREDE.
Maharaj hasn’t yet represented the Proteas in T20 cricket, but, given his domestic record in the format and the changing landscape affecting that team (examined later), his case is worth hearing.
Maharaj has bowled in 95 T20 innings, taken 81 wickets at an average of 28.74 and an economy rate of 6.67. This is the foundation of his case.
In this context, I watched the first weekend of the CSA T20 Challenge with interest, my focus trained on Maharaj’s performances on wickets that are likely to be the closest thing South Africa can produce to those that will be found in India for the World T20 later this year.
Maharaj’s performances in the CSA T20 Challenge have been excellent. He is the tournament’s second-highest wicket-taker after three matches, and boasts an insane economy rate of 3.75 per over, which is aided by two maidens in the 12 overs he’s bowled. This feat is even more notable considering that he has opened the bowling in every innings thus far.
One can build a case for his historical omission from the squad, but not his present-day claims.
Imran Tahir’s excellence in the format kept Maharaj out of the conversation for a hefty chunk of the period the Dolphins player was performing consistently domestically. Tahir, however, hasn’t played a T20I match since March 2019. He told the IOL Sport‘s Zaahier Adams in January that he still has ambitions of representing the Proteas. ‘I am available [to play for the Proteas],’ Tahir said. ‘It is up to them [CSA] to make the decision. I still feel like I can play for South Africa within me. That is more important than anything. I want to play in the World Cup and one or two series before then.’
Tahir is currently playing in the Pakistan Super League and strong performances there could revive his international career. However, given his selection snubs since he last played in the format, it appears the Proteas selectors have moved on.
They’ve found a talented and determined replacement in Tabraiz Shamsi, and have given opportunities to emerging talents: Bjorn Fortuin and George Linde. Jon-Jon Smuts has contributed with his off-spin, but is primarily picked for his batting.
Shamsi is an almost certain selection when fit. The question is whether the Proteas would be brave enough to play two specialist spinners at the World T20. If so, Maharaj must surely be their man.
With the inconsistency of the Proteas’ specialist batsmen in recent years, the selectors have gone the safe route by preferring bowling all-rounders to specialist bowlers. This is understandable, but it is time to seriously reflect on the ongoing efficacy of this selection philosophy.
The Proteas have lost 11 of their last 20 T20Is (one tie). That statistic gets worse when narrowed down to their last 12, of which they lost nine. To argue the selection of bowling all-rounders is the sole reason for their struggles would be inaccurate. But it demands closer inspection, and this is where Maharaj could become a talking point.
Maharaj’s performances in the coming weeks needs to be closely monitored and his selection claims evaluated on the basis of those performances.
He has started strongly and, if that form sustains, it would be hard to build a counter-argument for him being on the plane to India.