Imran Tahir would have been a good horses-for-courses inclusion for the third Test against New Zealand.
The selectors have opted to bring in Dane Piedt for the third Test at Seddon Park in Hamilton. Two ODIs were played here between the sides in the recently-concluded ODI series, and it proved conducive to spin – something the selectors wouldn’t have expected or factored into their plans for the Test squad.
The Proteas decided to bring in Tabraiz Shamsi to partner Imran Tahir for the first ODI, with Mitchell Santner and Jeetan Patel both opening the bowling for the Black Caps on this track in the fourth ODI. Their combined figures in that match produced 3-97 from 20 overs, with the pace pair of Tim Southee and Trent Boult going for an exorbitant 2-140 from their 20. In a match that saw Martin Guptill smash 180 off 138 balls, Tahir sent down two maidens for figures of 2-56 from his 10.
Now we’ve got the why out of the way for picking an extra spinner for the contest which starts on 25 March, we should examine the who, and I can’t help but feel that Tahir should have been the horses-for-courses pick. This is by no means a long-term option – Keshav Maharaj is the incumbent spinner, who CSA will be investing in for the foreseeable future.
As Craig Lewis alluded to when campaigning for Tahir’s inclusion in to the Test squad, the Proteas have opted for more of a ‘holding’ option when picking their spinners. Maharaj has shown that he’s capable of holding an end, while taking wickets at the same time on a number of different surfaces.
Piedt falls into that ‘holding’ category, and has enjoyed moderate success for the Proteas with 24 wickets from seven matches at an average of 36.04. Eight of those wickets however came against Zimbabwe, having an average of 44.56 against the rest of the sides he’s played against. It wasn’t a stand-out Sunfoil Series for the Cobras captain, taking 28 wickets at an average of 38.57, behind spinners Simon Harmer (34) and Shaun von Berg (32) in the wickets column and behind Senuran Muthusamy (26.07) and Maharaj (16.04) in the averages.
The other options at the selectors’ disposal were, of course, Shamsi and Tahir, both of whom are considered ‘attacking’ spinners. Tahir is the No 1 ODI and T20 bowler in the world, and while he has nothing to show off in the longest format (57 wickets from 20 Tests @ 40.24), he’s raised the bar recently, and there’s no reason why he can’t play the attacking role he’s played in ODIs, even if it’s just for this Test.
After all, the Proteas need 20 wickets in order to win the Test, and with Maharaj holding one end, I believe that using Tahir in short, attacking spurts would have been their best chance. Tahir is familiar with the set up, has the respect and full confidence of his teammates, and can come straight into the setup and do a job after playing on this track recently.
The Proteas have attempted to match the slow-left-arm and off-spin combination of Santner and Patel by including Piedt. While I would have gone for Tahir, I hope Piedt can use this opportunity to show that he still has value in the international set-up, and it will be interesting to see if he can match up to the experience of Patel.
This, after he almost went Kolpak amid the on- and off-field turmoil that the Cobras went through in the Sunfoil Series.
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