TELFORD VICE, Port Elizabeth
KESHAV Maharaj and Rangana Herath are perhaps the most polite men in cricket, as quick with a smile as they are with their good manners. They are also both left-arm spinners.
But that’s where the similarities would seem to end.
Herath will play his 76th test when South Africa and Sri Lanka take to St George’s Park on Monday. Maharaj will earn his third cap.
It is to Herath that the Lankans will look to keep their eyes on the prize of what would be only their second victory in 11 tests in South Africa.
He did, after all, take nine wickets to bowl them to their only win in this country at Kingsmead in December 2011.
Maharaj is a valuable but secondary threat in a South African team that has invariably relied on their fast bowlers to do the winning.
And whereas Maharaj is a livewire in the field possessed of a throwing arm that seems bigger than the rest of him and a nuggety batsman with two first-class centuries in his kitbag, Herath’s only marketable playing skill is being able to land the ball on a 10-cent piece metronomically for sessions on end.
That has brought him 28 five-wicket hauls seven 10-fors among the 351 wickets he has taken in tests.
Fifty-four of those victims were snared this year, which means that in 2016 Hearth has been second in wicket-taking terms only to Indian off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin – who, helped by sometimes unfairly favourable home conditions, has taken 18 more scalps than the Sri Lankan.
“Someone of his calibre is a threat to any team,” Maharaj said of his opposite number. “But we’ve been preparing really well and hopefully we can counter-attack that.
“I’ve always looked up to him. He is probably one of the left-arm spinners, apart from Daniel Vettori, that you try an model yourself on in terms of variations. His record speaks for itself.
“I’m looking forward to rubbing shoulders with him and learning from him.
“I’m still new to the international scene and he’s been here for a while so hopefully he can impart some of his knowledge and skill onto me.”
It’s not difficult to imagine that happening given the polite, friendly okes involved.
But that conversation will have to wait a few weeks, because there’s an elephant in the dressingroom.
It’s a test series, and it needs to be won before anyone thinks of anything else.