After a barren period for the Proteas spinners in T20Is, they have taken more than half the team’s wickets in matches in 2021. This is a piece of the World Cup puzzle that could be critical to their performance at the tournament, writes RYAN VREDE.
George Linde’s excellence in the Proteas’ last match was not an anomaly for Proteas spinners this year; it was a continuation of encouraging consistency in this dimension of their game.
Linde, who took three wickets including one off the first ball of the innings, combined potently with the world’s leading T20 bowler, Tabriaz Shamsi, to suffocate Pakistan. Their contribution at the Wanderers was defining in the final analysis, and speaks to an ever-growing threat in the Proteas’ attack.
Of the 34 opposition wickets to have fallen in 2021, spinners have taken 14 of those and done so at a good collective economy rate. This is a deviation from the trend of the preceding three years. In 2018 they took 12 of 47, 2019 brought a return of 10 of 47 and 2020 was the worse yet – at 11 of 50.
Granted, the majority of those matches have been played in South Africa, where spinners are less of a threat than on the subcontinent. But, it is nonetheless encouraging to see the growth in this often weak dimension of the Proteas’ attack.
At Imran Tahir’s peak, he was a match-defining force for them in T20 cricket and this became a cornerstone of the Proteas’ success in the format. Their potency waned as Tahir’s did (although this drop-off can’t exclusively be attributed to this), and the selectors opted to rebuild this facet of their attack with investment in Shamsi.
While the wheels can come off at times, Shamsi has found a level of consistency that has made him the format’s premier bowler, thereby delivering a good return on the aforementioned investment.
He is certain to travel to India for the World T20 later this year, but it remains to be seen who partners him. At this point Linde and Bjorn Fortuin are competing for the second spinner spot, with the former currently being preferred.
Both Linde and Fortuin are highly competent batters, which amplifies the Proteas’ threat in that facet of the game. Traditionally, the Proteas’ most successful sides have always batted deep, and the duo’s batting ability creates an opportunity to replicate that traditional strength going into the World Cup.
The format’s leading teams, England and India, have built their success on an investment in all-rounders that lengthen their batting lineup and it would be silly for the Proteas not to follow that blueprint.
In their context, there is even the possibility of all three spinners playing in the same team. Head coach Mark Boucher and captain Temba Bavuma have consistently spoken about embracing a ‘brave cricket’ philosophy recently. Their appetite for the risk picking three spinners would present remains to be seen. On the turning tracks of India, that selection approach would indeed represent a complete investment in ‘brave cricket’.
It is unlikely that the selectors will go this route, though, and even more unlikely that Keshav Maharaj, who dominated the recent T20 Challenge, will find a way to India (his omission from the squad still baffles me), but the Proteas spinners’ contribution is in an upward trajectory.
This is a year when their work could prove to be vital to making the Proteas’ more than place-fillers at the format’s premier tournament.
SA T20I spin wickets by year and match (a = away)
vs IND – 1 of 5
vs IND (2 spinners) – 0 of 4
vs IND (2 spinners) – 1 of 7
vs SL (a) (2 spinners) – 3 of 7
vs ZIM (2 spinners) – 5 of 10
vs ZIM – 1 of 7
vs AUS (a) – 1 of 7
Total: 12 of 47
vs PAK – 2 of 9
vs PAK – 0 of 7
vs PAK – 0 of 9
vs SL – 1 of 7
vs SL – 2 of 9
vs SL – 0 of 10
vs IND (a) – 2 of 3
vs IND (a) – 3 of 9
Total: 10 of 47
vs ENG – 0 of 9
vs ENG – 1 of 7
vs ENG – 1 of 5
vs AUS – 2 of 6
vs AUS – 0 -6
vs AUS – 1 of 5
vs ENG (2 spinners) – 3 of 5
vs ENG (2 spinners) – 3 of 6
vs ENG (2 spinners) – 0 or 1
Total: 11 of 50
2021 to date
vs PAK (a) (2 spinners) – 2 of 6
vs PAK (a) (2 spinners) – 1 of 7
vs PAK (a) (3 spinners) – 5 of 6
vs PAK (2 spinners) – 2 of 6
vs PAK (2 spinners) – 4 of 9
Total: 14 of 34