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Keshav Maharaj is confident the Proteas can bounce back and win the Test series against Bangladesh. Picture: RYAN WILKISKY/BACKPAGE PIX
Keshav Maharaj is confident the Proteas can bounce back and win the Test series against Bangladesh. Picture: RYAN WILKISKY/BACKPAGE PIX

Keshav Maharaj became the first man in the history of Test cricket to claim seven wickets in the fourth innings of consecutive Test matches as SA completed a 2-0 series win against Bangladesh with a 332-run victory at St George’s  Park in Gqeberha.        

For a second successive Test the Proteas required just two bowlers to claim all 10 second innings wickets, with Maharaj’s 7/40 complemented by Simon Harmer’s 3/34. SA’s next Test match is against England at Lord’s in August where they will be able to make a concerted push to cement a place in the second edition of the World Test Championship final next year, probably also at Lord’s.    

Might Maharaj and Harmer play alongside each other again? It depends on conditions, of course, but it may also depend on whether a series of grown-up conversations take place in the coming weeks and months that will affect several players right now and an increasing number of national players in the years to come. Conversations about contracts and “loyalty”. 

Harmer was hastily discarded after the Proteas tour to India in 2015 when he was barely half the bowler he is now. He was left playing one format of the game for the Warriors and was not even sure his franchise contract would be renewed. His immediate future felt bleak.    

Essex took a chance and offered him a pay-per-play deal as a Kolpak. Six years later he is a cult hero at the county, having led them to two County Championships and a T20 title. He is as revered by supporters as he is respected by opponents, and the affection is reciprocated. If he is asked to choose between playing for Essex this season or making himself available for SA’s two-month, multiformat tour of England, it will be cricket’s equivalent of asking a parent to choose between children.    

Such scenarios may still exist with a minority of players in India, England and Australia, who can afford to pay for exclusive national loyalty, but they are finished in the rest of the cricket-playing world. Never again will Cricket SA be able to demand exclusive rights to a player’s time or allegiance. The Indian Premier League (IPL) saw to that.    

The IPL has quietly flexed its muscles a little more for each of its 15 years. It pushed the boundaries of what is expected from its biggest-name players just a little more with each tournament but significantly more with the players a rung or two lower down on the “star ladder”.   

The five South Africans who would have been in the Test squad but chose to miss the series against Bangladesh in order to be available for the first two weeks in Mumbai did so, they believe, under a subtle form of duress.    

IPL franchises invest hundreds of millions of dollars and are increasingly reluctant to tolerate their highest-paid players “popping in” for half a season, arriving late or leaving early. Only Kagiso Rabada is among the superstar elite whose place on the must-have list would not have been affected if he had chosen to play against Bangladesh — which he was prepared to do.    

For the rest, the prospect of contract renewals or new contracts in the future would have been severely compromised if they had arrived late this year — or so they were led to believe. The IPL has demanded incrementally greater commitment over the years and now, in most cases, total commitment is required. In future, loyalty won’t be demanded. It will be bred.    

The real significance of the Mumbai Indians signing SA’s under-19 star, Dewald Brevis, may have been missed amidst the excitement of his big payday. Where does anybody think Brevis’s loyalty will lie in future years? If he is given a choice between signing a national contract and a long-term contract with Mumbai, does anybody really think it would be a choice?    

Cricket’s move towards a soccer-style world game has been under way for years and is now gathering pace. The world’s top players will sign contracts with franchises in future and be released by those clubs to play for their countries in designated “windows”. In soccer they are the continental championships and the World Cup and their respective qualifiers. In cricket they will be International Cricket Council events and their qualifiers, with the onus on limited-overs World Cups rather than the World Test Championship, which will take them away from their domestic commitments for too long.    

Harmer is heading straight to the UK after his 15-wicket return to Test cricket and hopes to be playing for Essex in the second round of the County Championship against Somerset starting on Thursday. Elgar declared yesterday that Maharaj is his number one spinner, but Harmer will certainly be in the Proteas squad. He should then be allowed to continue playing for Essex in August and September if the tourists do not select two spinners at Lord’s, Old Trafford and The Oval.

Because that’s what the future looks like and the sooner SA adapts, the better. 


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