South Africa vs Sri Lanka 2018
28-year-old South African left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj has suddenly got all the attention towards him. And why not? The Indian origin player posted South Africa’s best figures since they were readmitted to international cricket in 1991 by taking 9-129 against Sri Lanka.
It was sheer beauty and precision from Maharaj, to gain maximum purchase from a spin-friendly track at Colombo. South Africa suffered another Test match loss, but Maharaj has staked his claim by clinching 12 scalps.
Maharaj, who continued with his second-innings form from Galle, produced an exceptional spin masterclass. The left-arm spinner bowled a lot of overs in the build-up to the match to keep his match rhythm flowing, and worked closely with Proteas spin bowling coach to keep himself in shape mentally.
This spell was special given he got the set batsmen one by one.
Faf du Plessis, who went with one spinner, had to hand a marathon opening spell of 25 overs to Maharaj. And scripting this epic show despite fatigue and the excessive Colombo heat, one should not rule out this special modern day feat. How special was this spell?
Probably the best in recent times, given there was no other spinner bowling in tandem. There was no spin partnership.
The question arises now is Maharaj the best left-arm spinner in the current scenario? Well, one cannot claim that largely because the span of his career has been short. But the player has shown a rapid rise. One might claim Sri Lankan veteran ace Rangana Herath as the best in business still. But he is a king in Asian conditions.
Perhaps, Ravindra Jadeja may claim a shout as well. But overseas, he is often left in the bench. So yes, one may then start to think that Maharaj is up there given his shows both at home and way.
The bracket, therefore, is tight and composed at the moment. Here we look at how Maharaj rose to glory and how he compares with the others mentioned above and some of the famous left-arm bowlers in the past.
Maharaj on ‘Cloud 9’ post heroics
Maharaj also registered the second best bowling figures, for Proteas, in their history of the game. 9 for 113 by Hugh Tayfield, 60 years ago, is still the most impressive figures by a South African. Maharaj also scripted the 19th best performance in Tests. He became the 17th bowler to take nine wickets in a Test inning.
At home, Maharaj has always been the lone spinner and is used to do the holding job when pacers are ruling the roost. Here the scenario was different, but Maharaj rose to the chance like a phoenix. He took the new ball in Sri Lanka’s second innings and captured three more wickets as the hosts declared at 275/5.
The bowler did a commendable job against India earlier this year at home and when looks at him, he is quite the real deal. In Colombo, he bowled with a clear head and knew what he was doing. What was impressive that he bowled straight and let the pitch to do the rest. Maharaj isn’t a big turner of the ball like a Kuldeep for example. He isn’t a wrist spinner, but rather uses his fingers.
He tempted the batsmen to come hard at him after pitching it higher. The intent was clear; attack every over.
Maharaj’s numbers have been on the high
Maharaj has played 22 Tests so far, and he has performed creditably at home. In 11 tests, he has taken 38 wickets on pace friendly pitches. He has two five-fors including a best of 5/59. He has done an able job in England, New Zealand and now Sri Lanka as well. Only Australia comes as a nation where he wasn’t up to the mark.
In Asia, he has only played in Sri Lanka and in two Tests, he has already picked 16 wickets. His bowling average of 21.73 his highly impressive. In England, his record is strong. 17 wickets from four Tests is quite a show. With a best of 4/85, he has shown calibre in another swing and pace friendly nation. And not to forget New Zealand which has similar conditions to England. In three Tests, he has 15 wickets there.
Maharaj has a total of 90 wickets in 22 Tests. And that’s really staggering.
A look at the pool of left-arm spinners in Tests
When the present pool of left-arm spinners are brought into play, Herath leads the charge. He has been in the business for close to two decades now. A career that has seen him already picking 430 wickets. The Lankan ace is more of a teacher for young budding cricketers.
Herath is a king at home with 276 wickets on Lankan pitches to his name with a career-best of 9/127. Maharaj has a better record than Herath in South Africa where the latter has 16 wickets from 6 Test matches. And similarly, Maharaj is better in New Zealand and England too. Herath has 8 and 21 wickets at these venues respectively.
Ravindra Jadeja, on the other hand, is similar like that of Herath of being a lion at home. Out of his 171 Test scalps, 137 have come in India alone. In England, Jadeja has 9 wickets from 4 games. In New Zealand, he has struggled to gain momentum with only 3 scalps from two matches. In South Africa, the senior bowler has played one Test, picking 6 wickets. Jadeja is no doubt a classy bowler, but he hasn’t got the opportunities like Maharaj or Herath outside the home.
Maharaj against the likes of Boje and Vettori
The duo of Nicky Boje and Daniel Vettori come to mind as far left-arm spinners go in the recent past. Vettori, no doubt, was a world class spinner. He was a subtle killer with a lot of consistency and grit.
The former Kiwi international enjoyed dominance in Asia in both Sri Lanka and India. The bowler picked 30 wickets in Lanka from 7 Tests and had 31 in India from 8 matches. Vettori was a rare breed who showed his prowess everywhere he went to.
He had wickets everywhere apart from South Africa where he struggled. But elsewhere like that of England (26), Australia (37) and New Zealand (159) to make a real impression in pace-friendly conditions.
Perhaps, Maharaj can draw inspiration from Vettori and should look to follow in his footsteps in creating a name for himself. The simplicity of Vettori is something that can be associated with Maharaj.
Nicky Boje wasn’t the hype ever as the rest in contention, but since being a former Proteas man he comes into the picture. In seven matches, in Sri Lanka, he had 25 scalps, but when one looks at his bowling average, it was a massive disappointment. He averaged 43.80. But one can claim that Lanka had better batsmen back then. Some of them were world class.