“After losing the Durban campaign, the onus of making a comeback is now on South Africa. Maharaj’s heroics may have been camouflaged by Australia’s victory, but he will have more opportunities in the series to show what he is made of”.
South Africa is customarily acknowledged to assist the seamers; spinners getting immense help from the surface on Day 1 is something unheard of. But the opening day of Durban Test against Australia saw Keshav Maharaj, the left-arm orthodox spinner, bowl 24 off the 76 overs in the day’s play. With Australia being widely reckoned for their prowess against pace, South Africa opted not play to their advantage. Both the teams have an intimidating pace attack, but the track was slow in nature and had immense help for the spinners, which meant Lyon and Maharaj had a lot of responsibility to shoulder.
Maharaj is deadly accurate with his line and length, he’s a smart customer when it comes to putting in the hard yards. Maharaj’s brilliance might have got overshadowed in this Test, but one shouldn’t forget the kind of impact he had with the ball. He picked nine wickets in both the innings combined, which is also his career-best figures. South Africa lack world-class spinners in Test cricket, they have often tinkered with part-timers, who have tasted success sporadically. But Maharaj’s presence has started building high hopes.
In conditions favourable for seamers, a role of a spinner is usually underestimated. Even on a lush green surface, a spinner can make a huge impact. The team that has a more accurate spinner have an advantage. He can maintain a tight line and squeeze the flow of runs from his end, which will not only allow the rotation of bowlers effectively but also provide rest to the front liners.
Australia won the toss and opted to bat first, South African seamers did well to get rid of the top-order after which, Steve Smith and Shaun Marsh were rebuilding. Maharaj broke Australia’s spine by getting rid of Smith for 56. The Australian skipper has a knack for scoring big and is also a very good player of spin. His dismissal brought South Africa back into the game and provided a big opportunity to pull things back. Maharaj followed it with the key wicket of Shaun Marsh and then cleaned up the Australian tail with his guile. Australia were derailed for 351 while Maharaj had five wickets under his belt.
Maharaj is a silent assassin and does his job rather silently.Talking about Maharaj and Lyon, both the spinners are unique in their own way. Different styles of bowling, but consistency is always there. There is a huge difference in the amount of experience they both carry. Maharaj has 66 wickets at 26.54 from 17 Tests while Lyon has been the most successful offspinner from his country with 293 wickets at 31.78 from 75 games. Lyon definitely holds an upper hand, but Maharaj has shown a great promise and has been very impactful. The battle between the two will be the flavour of the season in my opinion.
Despite being more effective at Durban, Maharaj ended up on the losing side, mainly due to South Africa’s batting failure. Of course, it will be cruel to judge Lyon as the Australian seamers wreaked havoc, but Maharaj was outstanding in both the innings. He displayed some staggering accuracy and control in the first innings, which he has a knack for doing. He did make mistakes but was quick enough to rectify those.
Maharaj continued his good form in the second innings as well, picking 4 for 102. He bowled 29.4 overs in the second innings, after having bowled 33.4 overs in the first. South Africa may have lost the game, but there were certainly a lot of positives to take. The young blood is shaping well.
Maharaj does not attract a lot of attention and is hardly expressive – he does his work silently. Just 17 Tests old, he has shown the potential of developing into a world-class Test spinner. He is certainly the best in his country for now, but the upcoming matches will test his mettle and skills.
After losing the Durban campaign, the onus of making a comeback is now on South Africa. Maharaj’s heroics may have been camouflaged by Australia’s victory, but he will have more opportunities in the series to show what he is made of. He has the hunger and if South Africa opt to dish out slower tracks in the remainder of the series, Maharaj will surely pose a massive threat and challenge of a different kind.