While South Africa’s Test series defeat against Sri Lanka was extremely disappointing on a collective front, Maharaj’s awesome individual bowling performance in the second Test was worth applauding.
After taking figures of 12-283 in Colombo (including 9-129 during the first innings), Maharaj produced the best bowling figures by a Protea since readmission. Maharaj is easily the best South African spinner since readmission and, as time unfolds, I believe he will become known as the best spinner South Africa has ever produced. I’m pretty confident that he will surpass the number of wickets taken by the late, great off-spinner, Hugh Tayfield, who claimed 170 scalps for his country over a 37-match Test career.
Maharaj, who only made his debut in 2016 for South Africa in the longest version of the game, has already amassed 90 Test wickets and boasts an average of 27.65.
Prior to departing for Sri Lanka, I was blessed to spend some time chatting to Maharaj on KwaZulu-Natal’s south coast. He is a lovely guy and deserves every accolade that comes his way. He is humble and keen to continue to hone his craft. I like the way he goes about his business and he has got such an important role to play. The left-arm orthodox bowler chips away, is not fazed by batsmen trying to attack him and deserves credit for the way he handles the pressure.
From a technical point of view, his balance at the crease on delivery is outstanding. He is very consistent because he is able to land the ball in the right area a high percentage of the time… and I foresee him developing further strings to his bow. He will perfect the ball that slides on and becomes better at drifting. In addition, he will understand his own field placings even more as he progresses throughout his international career.
Although we naturally shot the breeze about spin bowling, our conversation also revolved around batting. As he gets older, if he can improve his batting and really become a top number eight then he can be the complete package for the Proteas in the form of a quality all-rounder. Maharaj has the potential to do so because he values his wicket and is willing to work on the parts of his game that require fortifying.
I played in an era where there were a number of players that could bat and bowl for the Proteas. We often played on green pitches, which meant South Africa only picked one spinner and players like me had to strengthen the tail. During my Test career, I had a batting average of 28.50 and a highest score of 108. Maharaj only has a batting average of 14.92, with a highest score of 45. However, I believe the 28-year-old Durban native has the ability to eventually take on the all-rounder role for South Africa.
Maharaj was part of a twin spin attack with Tabraiz Shamsi during the Test series and they worked well in tandem. However, the former wasn’t called upon for the first one-day international in Dambulla. JP Duminy got the nod, scored 53 and bowled four overs of off-break.
Faf du Plessis and the Proteas must be congratulated on a terrific win. There were some top performances on the day for the visitors and Shamsi starred with the ball, claiming career-best figures of 4/33. He maintained good control and the Sri Lankans will be more watchful of him for the remainder of the ODI series.
Not only do I expect South Africa to prove more competitive in the 50-over format against Sri Lanka, I would be surprised if they don’t clinch the five-match series. It’s a totally different package, with more than a handful of players having arrived fresh and not carrying any baggage from the Test series.
Meanwhile, the remaining players have been in Sri Lanka for a period and should have acclimatised to conditions.
(Article written and appeared in SA Cricket Magazine)