JOHANNESBURG – Keshav Maharaj’s leadership and tactical acumen were some of the outstanding features of South Africa’s 3-0 cleansweep of Sri Lanka.
Maharaj stepped into the captaincy position after Temba Bavuma had his right thumb fractured by an errant throw by a Sri Lankan fielder during the first One-Day International two weeks ago. While he admitted to some nerves before the second ODI, Maharaj managed to control those and then did an expert job in guiding the Proteas through the next five matches, while using the spinners cleverly.
“It’s not his first roadshow, he’s been around, especially in conditions like this before,” said South Africa’s head coach Mark Boucher.
Indeed, Maharaj seems like the most obvious choice to have filled in for Bavuma, given his experience in guiding the Dolphins last season. The KwaZulu Natal franchise, change tact drastically in the last few seasons, as conditions at Kingsmead have gone from the sporty seamer friendly ‘green mamba’ of yore, to a dust bowl reminiscent of what is found in the sub-continent.
Maharaj mixed and matched bowlers in those conditions superbly helping the Dolphins to great success in recent seasons. “He’s got a great feel for the game, especially when you’re playing a lot of spinners,” said Boucher.
In his second game in charge, Maharaj utilised spinners for 40 overs, with Boucher highlighting how even when Aiden Markram conceded 18 runs in his first two overs of that match, while bowling in the power play, Maharaj showed confidence in him, and brought him back on to bowl later in the innings. Markram finished with 2/41 in 10 overs in the third ODI.
Throughout the T20 series, Maharaj mixed and matched his bowlers as the moment demanded. Anrich Nortje bowled all four overs in the first game, and then just two in the second, while Markram, who didn’t bowl at all in the first match, bowled a full quota of four in the second – a ploy to target Sri Lanka’s left hand batsmen – and picked up three wickets.
“I just think he has a good feel for the game, and also the way he dealt with his players and especially the spinners was great, and it shows he’s got great leadership within our unit as well, which will stand us in good stead especially in spinning conditions.”
Boucher and the Proteas brainstrust believe those are exactly the kind of conditions they will encounter at the T20 World Cup, which will be played in the UAE, Oman and Qatar next month. Before then, those pitches will play host to matches in the Indian Premier League and then the preliminary round of the World Cup, featuring eight teams.
Boucher is happy that the Proteas squad for that tournament has sufficient options and that it can adopt different strategies. “We will look at conditions and look at the combinations we’ve got,” he said.
“We left out Anrich a few times, he’s been fantastic and if we get to a wicket where we think he can be a match-winner then we must play him. We’ve got a lot of spinners we can turn to now, which is great to have, especially going into the UAE. We’ll look at those conditions and weigh up whether we need to carry an extra all-rounder, or an extra batter – we have those options. It’s not horses for courses, it’s about playing the conditions. We believe we’ve got the players to put out successful combinations based on the conditions we’ll get.”