Jaco van der Merwe.
As always, television analyst Shaun Pollock made a very valid point during the first cricket Test between India and South Africa last week.
He was questioning the Proteas’ team selection which consisted of five specialist batsman, wicketkeeper/batsman Quinton de Kock, all-rounders Vernon Philander and Senuran Muthusamy and three specialist bowlers – spinners Dane Piedt and Keshav Maharaj plus seamer Kagiso Rabada.
Pollock said he would have gone for another batsman instead of an all-rounder – in all probability Zubayr Hamza instead of Muthusamy, and another seamer instead of a spinner which would have been Piedt making way for Lungi Ngidi or Anrich Nortje.
South Africa belatedly went that route for the second Test in Pune, which started on Thursday, with Nortje being handed a Test debut.
In all fairness, Muthusamy did give his all with the bat in scoring unbeaten knocks of 33 and 49 and took the valuable wicket of Virat Kohli while there was no guarantee that Hamza would have scored any more runs as a specialist batsman, but for Piedt things didn’t turn out all that rosy.
The off-spinner picked up a solitary wicket and got hammered for all of 209 runs, conceding 5.8 to the over.
To put that into perspective, Maharaj bowled more than twice as many overs as Piedt and went for four runs an over
from his 77.
And the two seamers combined hardly conceded more than three runs to the over.
The irony is, Indian seamer Mohammad Shami was the hosts’ star in South Africa’s second innings on day five when pitches are traditionally supposed to give spinners the most support.
Shami starred with 5/35 while India’s two main spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja took a combined 5/131.
Ashwin, a man with 350 wickets in 66 Tests behind his name, gets upstaged by his seaming team-mate.
There is this notion that because the pitches on the subcontinent are conducive to spin, you need to pick spinners when you go there.
Because a spinner is mos a spinner, right? Wrong.
Being in South Africa where pitches suit seam and swing, the Proteas last season hardly required Maharaj, the South African spinner with the best wicketper-Test ratio since readmission, to play in any of the home Tests.
If you take away Piedt’s eight wickets on debut against the mighty Zimbabwe in Harare in 2014, his record reads 17 wickets in seven Tests at a mammoth average of 54.23.
I really get the feeling he was picked purely for the sake of picking a second spinner.
And I realise he scored a fighting 56 in the second innings, but his job was to support Maharaj with the ball and scoring a few runs unfortunately for him can’t paper over the cracks.
And this is where Pollock’s take comes in. Surely a Ngidi or Nortje could not have fared any worse and would have surely brought a few extra weapons to the party than a straightforward off-spinner did.
If you are hell-bent on picking a second spinner, then why not select a genuine wicket-taking option like a Tabraiz Shamsi or a Shaun von Berg?
And if team management is scared it doesn’t pay off, there is always Muthusamy and part-timers Aiden Markham and Dean Elgar to do a holding job.
Speaking of which, after the first Test Elgar still boasted the record of having taken the most wickets in India out of the current team.
Six wickets at 23.3 to be exact. Enough said.
Jaco van der Merwe is The Citizen’s Head of Sport.
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