Can spin sen­sa­tion Ma­haraj thrive in the caul­dron of ODI cricket?

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - SPORT - STUART HESS

ON THE face of it, South Africa’s se­lec­tors have taken a ma­jor risk with the bowl­ing unit that’s got to try and rat­tle Sri Lanka over the course of five ODIs, the first of which started in Dambulla this morn­ing.

Leav­ing aside the op­tional slow bowl­ing from messrs Du­miny, Markram, Hen­dricks and Klaasen, the bulk of the bowl­ing will be done by a very young group who don’t even have 100 ODI caps be­tween them. Kag­iso Rabada with 48 matches un­der his belt is the most ex­pe­ri­enced mem­ber of the at­tack, whose two front­line spin­ners, Tabraiz Shamsi and Ke­shav Ma­haraj have only played a to­tal of nine ODIs, be­fore to­day.

And that looks risky, but it may be a case of some ter­rific fore­sight from the se­lec­tors. De­spite the in­ex­pe­ri­ence, South Africa’s bowl­ing is still the strength as far as the squad for the Sri Lanka series is con­cerned. Rabada and Lungi Ngidi – who has just four caps to his name – are a very good new ball com­bi­na­tion and are both ex­tremely com­posed, pre­cise op­er­a­tors in the ‘death’ overs. For­get for a mo­ment Ngidi’s youth, in his short pro­fes­sional ca­reer, he has al­ready shown a fond­ness for the big stage, whether do­mes­tic T20 fi­nals for his fran­chise the Ti­tans, his var­i­ous in­ter­na­tional de­buts, or this year’s IPL fi­nal – when the lights are bright­est and the stands packed, Ngidi thrives.

The same holds true for Andile Phehluk­wayo, another fine ex­po­nent at the back end of the in­nings with the ball (and bat too), while 20-year-old Wi­aan Mul­der has a point to prove as he at­tempts to leapfrog the in­jured Chris Mor­ris into reck­on­ing for next year’s World Cup.

One pos­i­tive aspect of the oth­er­wise dis­mal series against In­dia last sum­mer was how well South Africa per­formed at the ‘death’ with the ball. In

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P26 For Sri Lanka ODIs (all times SA) To­day - 1st ODI, Dambulla, 6.30am Aug 1 - 2nd ODI, Dambulla, 11am Aug 5 - 3rd ODI, Kandy, 6.30am Aug 8 - 4th ODI, Kandy 11am

Aug 12 - 5th ODI, Colombo, 11am the three matches in which they bowled first, there was im­prove­ment in that cat­e­gory; they al­lowed In­dia 80 runs in the last 10 overs of the sec­ond ODI, but then just 59 and 55 runs re­spec­tively in the same

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pe­riod of the fourth and fifth ODIs. Rabada and Mor­ris were largely re­spon­si­ble for overs in those matches and while it may ap­pear a small item, it is nev­er­the­less a cru­cial part of the lim­ited-overs strat­egy and if the Proteas can turn it into a strength by be­ing con­sis­tent in that depart­ment it will be a sig­nif­i­cant box ticked.

Over­all South Africa’s bowl­ing has been the most pos­i­tive aspect of the side’s per­for­mances in re­cent times. The Proteas have va­ri­ety in terms of

P27 pace, seam and swing, while thanks to Im­ran Tahir they main­tained a wicket-tak­ing spin threat through the mid­dle overs. Tahir didn’t have a good sum­mer, strug­gling against In­dia, but the over­all arc of his ca­reer means he re­mains the spear­head as far as spin op­tions are con­cerned and that Shamsi and Ma­haraj are prob­a­bly com­pet­ing for one spot in a 15-man World Cup squad.

Shamsi is the more at­tack­ing op­tion and has been a con­sis­tent per­former for the Ti­tans at do­mes­tic level.

Ma­haraj has locked down the spin­ner’s spot in the Test side but there is a sense he has plenty to of­fer in the shorter for­mats and the se­lec­tors are right to give him a go over the next few months. He is prob­a­bly not as a big of a wicket-tak­ing op­tion as Shamsi, but he is a bet­ter bats­man and fielder, which may see him sneak in ahead of the wrist-spin­ner should South Africa ever want to play two front­line spin­ners in Eng­land next year.

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