Last July, a Proteas Test team without Keshav Maharaj felt simply unthinkable.
The left-arm spinner had just taken an incredible haul of 9/129 in the second Test against Sri Lanka in Colombo, the second best innings haul of all time for a South African.
He was the Proteas leading wicket-taker in New Zealand and runner-up to Morne Morkel in England in 2017 – both countries where spinners don’t tradionally flourish.
He repeated the English feat against the Australians at home in 2018.
Maharaj’s record of 90 wickets in 27 Tests at an average of just over 27 suggests indispensability.
Then, Duanne Olivier unexpectedly took 11 wickets in the first Test against Pakistan in Centurion and the brains trust of Ottis Gibson and Faf du Plessis felt a pace barrage was the way to topple the visitors.
The unthinkable became reality.
But Maharaj, known for his calm demeanour, has no hard feelings going into the two-Test series against Sri Lanka starting in Durban on Wednesday.
“Every cricketer wants to, well, play cricket,” he said on Monday.
“When you’re left out, you’re obviously a bit disappointed, but you understand what the team needs. At the end of day we’re trying to achieve something and if that means I have to be left out, then you accept it.
“You’ve got to respect selection decisions. It paid off against Pakistan, so they were right.”
With the two Tests taking place at Kingsmead and St George’s Park, venues that do assist the tweakers later on in the season, Maharaj can harbour bigger hopes of making a return.
In fact, South Africa might even feel the 29-year-old could be a trump card given the headaches he gave the Sri Lankan batters last year.
“I don’t take things for granted,” Maharaj said with a chuckle.
“On any given day, a batsman can dominate you as a bowler. My thing is that despite the fact that I’ve seen quite a few of the Sri Lankan batsmen recently, I just want to put the ball in the right areas for a consistent period of time.
“Hopefully that’s enough to ensure some success.”
It’s certainly worked before.