South Africa have always been known for producing world-class fast bowlers. From the likes of Shaun Pollock, Allan Donald, Makhaya Ntini and Dale Steyn to the current bunch of speedsters like Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje and Marco Jansen, pace has been South Africa's chief weapon over the years. Keshav Maharaj and Simon Harmer seem to be changing that script.
The just-concluded Test series against Bangladesh can be a turning point in South African cricket. The way Maharaj and Harmer dominated Bangladesh batters, usually adept at playing spin on slow turning wickets in the sub-continent, – South Africa can review its strengths and weaknesses.
In the absence of South Africa’s front-line seam attack of Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Marco Jansen, who chose lucrative IPL contracts over national commitment, Maharaj and Harmer ripped the heart of Bangladesh batting. In Durban and Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) Tests, the duo took all 10 Bangladesh wickets in the fourth innings to fashion massive wins.
🏏 RESULT | #Proteas WIN BY 332 RUNS— Cricket South Africa (@OfficialCSA) April 11, 2022
Keshav Maharaj claimed 7/40 in the second innings as the #Proteas romped to victory in the first hour of Day 4 to secure the #BetwayTestSeries over Bangladesh#SAvBAN #BePartOfIt | @Betway_za pic.twitter.com/47W7F5iNpe
“I am glad there's a shift of mindset towards spin bowling in our country,” Keshav Maharaj had said after the first Test win.
Interestingly, it was the first time since 1970, South Africa chose to play with two spinners in a Test match at home and also the first time ever that two South Africans have combined to take all the 10 wickets in an innings in Tests.
For the record, Maharaj took a seven-wicket haul in the second innings of both Tests while Harmer had to settle with three wickets on both occasions. For South Africa captain Dean Elgar, the pair of Keshav Maharaj and Simon Harmer will be a reference point going forward.
“The biggest thing for them was to trust the process, Keshav and Simon. Keshav will always be my number one spinner, but it was about them trusting my thought and process. Great to see two guys go about their business at the highest level,” Elgar said after winning the series 2-0 on Monday.
“We have a good core of spin bowlers in this squad and they have started their off-season. It is good to have Keshav and Simon as the reference point going forward,” added the captain. Unlike the fast-paced wickets that are usually seen in South Africa, the pitches in Kingsmead and Port Elizabeth suited both Maharaj and Harmer.
What made the spin duo’s work special was the fact that Bangladesh have grown up playing on these wickets and to bowl them twice under 100 in four innings was really commendable. Maharaj and Harmer picked 29 off the 40 Bangladeshi wickets to fall.
Maharaj, who finished with nine wickets in the second Test and 16 in the series, also lauded the impact Harmer had in the game.
“He's done an exceptional job after having returned to international cricket after a while and under pressure, he showed why he's a world-class performer and his growth,” Maharaj said about his spin partner.
Simon Harmer had left the country in 2015 after signing a Kolpak deal with Essex in England. He returned earlier this year.
For Maharaj and Harmer, the key is to be consistent from here on. South Africa’s next Test assignment is in England where they play three games in August-September. It will be interesting to see how Harmer performs against the Joe Root-led side having spent a considerable amount of time bowling on English wickets.