To spin or not to spin at a ground where batsmen win matches

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

YOU could never accuse Claude Henderson of being an allrounder, but SA’s spin consultant asked as well as answered questions when he contemplated his team’s triseries match against Australia in Barbados on Sunday.

“Barbados, I believe, is a better batting wicket; maybe a bit more bounce,” Henderson said. “But I also believe the boundaries are slightly bigger. So, who knows? Do we go in with three spinners? Is that an option?”

No. Or, in weasel words, probably not. Kensington Oval in Bridgetown in Bridgetown harbours the fastest pitch in the Caribbean. Conditions there are closer to what the SA and Aussie players will know than anything in Guyana and St Kitts, where the first six games were played.

You wouldn’t pick three spinners at the Wanderers or the Waca. So why would you do so in Barbados? Because the spinners are Imran Tahir, Aaron Phangiso and Tabraiz Shamsi.

Leg spinner Tahir is the series’ leading wicket-taker with 13. No other bowler – seam, spin, whatever – has reached double figures. Tahir is second in the tournament averages and in terms of strike rate.

Left-arm spinner Phangiso, back from the brink of being branded a chucker, has taken six scalps. But at a better average than proper players like Kagiso Rabada as well as overrated mediocrities like Kieron Pollard.

And then there’s Shamsi, a bounding puppy of a left-arm wrist spinner just two one-day internationals into his SA career but already looking like he belongs.

“Imran and him have connected well,” Henderson said. “It’s fantastic to see a 37-year-old sharing his knowledge with a young man like Shamsi.

“Imran Tahir has shown why he is the No. 1 one-day spinner, in my opinion, in world cricket. He’s got great variation. He takes wickets when needed. He can bowl on any surface. Especially when the wickets don’t spin, he’s very dangerous.

“Aaron Phangiso has gone through a tough time changing his action. He did it in four days. These things normally take two to three months.

“He’s a crafty left-arm spinner. He’s got a lot of experience. He’s got great control. He understands conditions. He fits into a very good unit. And he does what the captain asks him to do.

“I love my job because these guys have walked the journey. Some of them are very young. Some of them have been around for donkeys years, and they add value. It’s fantastic to have that luxury.

“Five or six years ago there weren’t many spinners around. Now we’ve got a lot knocking on the door. Who knows where this is going to take us? It’s exciting.”

Trying to stop Henderson from gushing about his charges would have been like trying to stop a father from going on about his kids. But it wasn’t all pride.

“I’m always in favour of spin because I believe sides don’t prepare as well against spin as they do against quick bowling,” Henderson said.

And another thing …

“If we beat Australia we’re in the final.”

Why didn’t you say so earlier? In that case, pick all the spinners you want as long as you tell the batsmen to do what they did when they scored 343/4 against West Indies in St Kitts on Wednesday.

Because, in Barbados, batsmen win matches.

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