Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Wellington — South African spinners last took a dozen or more wickets in a Test not played in subcontinent conditions more than 60 years ago.

In February 1957‚ Hugh Tayfield claimed 13/232 to help SA win the fourth Test against England by 17 runs at the Wanderers. Three weeks earlier‚ Tayfield and Clive van Ryneveld had combined to take 12/177 in the drawn Kingsmead Test.

Those records stood until this past weekend‚ when Keshav Maharaj and JP Duminy grabbed 12/138 to bowl SA to an eight-wicket victory over New Zealand in three days at the Basin Reserve in Wellington.

That marked only the 15th time in the 410 Tests SA have played anywhere that their slow bowlers have taken 10 or more wickets — or 3.66% of the time.

A lot can happen to a cricket culture in 60 years. SA’s‚ for instance‚ veered away from spin and towards fast bowling.

And‚ it bears pointing out, considering Maharaj and Duminy are of colour‚ apartheid is no longer the law of the land.

These days‚ merit plays a far greater role in selection than it did when places in SA’s team were reserved for whites only.

Claude Henderson‚ SA’s spin consultant‚ has lived through some of the changes. Pace dominated the attack in the seven Tests the slow left-armer played between September 2001 and October 2002. Henderson was the only spinner SA used in five of those games and the slow bowlers never took more than seven wickets. That was less a comment on their performance than the fact that they had to be satisfied with the leftovers once the quicks had had their fill.

But‚ with left-arm spinner Maharaj taking five-wicket hauls in both Tests in this series‚ off-spinner Dane Piedt having joined the squad ahead of the third Test in Hamilton on Saturday‚ and four slow bowlers named among the 21 players Cricket SA have contracted for 2017-18‚ the country’s spin stocks are healthy.

"It’s fantastic to see that the spin culture is growing‚ but it’s important that the right messages get sent to those spinners coming through‚" Henderson said. "[Cricket SA] have changed the policy at youth level‚ where the idea is to bowl more spin. T20 has helped because successful teams will have one or two good spinners and while our conditions sometimes don’t favour spin we play a lot of cricket in the subcontinent.

"And there’s no more Jacques Kallis. You need somebody in the Test side who is able to hold the game in any conditions‚ whether it’s day one at the Wanderers or day four in India."

Maharaj is the shining example of what happens when the system works. His 13 scalps at 13.92 have made him the Test series’ leading bowler and he should add to that success on Hamilton’s slower, turning surface.

TMG Digital

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