Only one winner in seam v spin

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Perth

POP. Thud. Game over. It was for Dale Steyn at the WACA on Friday, when the stellar fast bowler broke the same shoulder for the second time in less than a year and earned what will probably be six months out of the game. At least.

The moment chilled all who saw Steyn, as visceral an embodiment of the violence of his vocation as can be, reduced to a haunched facsimile of all that.

“I was bowling and felt this pop, or like a thud, in my shoulder,” Steyn said in an interview with Channel Nine yesterday.

“There was a lot of pain. I’ve got a clean fracture in one of the bones in my shoulder. It’s not pretty.”

Not at all. In fact watching South Africans would swear they felt pain themselves. Australians would empathise. Because they know as well as we do that fast bowling wins matches.

Spin? Good for stopping the game or running through the tail, particularly on worn pitches.

But unless the slow poisoner’s name is Tayfield or Warne don’t expect us to take them seriously if the game is on the line.

“It’s probably mostly to do with the conditions, but if you think of kids growing up in South Africa and here in Australia everybody wants to be a fast bowler,” former test batsman and selector Ashwell Prince, who is in Perth commentating for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, said yesterday.

“In South Africa people want to be like Allan Donald, Makhaya Ntini, Shaun Pollock in South Africa. Here I’m sure it’s the same with Brett Lee and those type of guys.

“I suppose the difference between South Africa and Australia is that they’ve had Shane Warne, and when we came out with the A side (from July to September) they had quite a few young leggies in their A side and in their national performance or academy squad.

“So people are trying to keep that leg spin tradition going in Australia. But both countries tend to want to go to their fast bowlers.”

So we should forgive the Saffers and Aussies who, focused as they were on Steyn gingerly leaving the field, did not see what happened next in the middle.

Two deliveries of that over remained, and before anyone could stop him or tell him any different Keshav Maharaj grabbed the ball and marked out a run-up.

How many times a spinner had completed a fast bowler’s over in a test was a statistic not immediately to hand.

Nevermind at a quick’s cauldron like the WACA, or in matches involving South Africa or Australia, or when the fast bowler was a giant of the game like Steyn and the spinner was a rank greenhorn like Maharaj.

That the latter was playing at all was a surprise, given the damage Morne Morkel could have done on cricket’s liveliest pitch.

“I’m very anxious,” Maharaj admitted four days before the match. “Obviously I want to play my first test, but it comes down to picking the best possible team to win the test match.

“I’ve just been trying to do my business and hopefully that’s enough to crack the nod.”

It was, and the clever, nagging Maharaj took 3/56 in Australia’s first innings.

“Maybe had Dale not been injured we would have seen less of Maharaj (who bowled 18.2 overs),” Prince said. “But he’s not a newbie in terms of first-class cricket and he knows exactly what he’s doing with the ball.”   

Even so it was left to a fast bowler to explain Maharaj’s success, probably because the seamer had taken 4/56. But still.

“He’s been putting in the hard yards,” Vernon Philander said at that evening’s press conference. “To see the results and, coming off the way he did here, it’s thumbs-up to him.”

And to Imran Tahir, Tabraiz Shamsi, Dane Piedt and Simon Harmer, who have ensured South Africa’s spin cupboard is amply stocked.

Will they be properly appreciated, or will they need more injuries to fast bowlers to be given a proper go?

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