TELFORD VICE in Wellington
IF you had to round up off-spin’s usual suspects Dane Piedt wouldn’t be among them. He isn’t conservative. He doesn’t think about containing first and striking later. He couldn’t imagine spending his career simply holding up an end.
Boring is what most offies are. Piedt? He bowls the carrom. And the doosra. His second name is Leeroy. His dog’s name is Corona. As in the beer.
Better yet, he gets people out. And in ways seldom accomplished by others of his modest ilk.
Mavericks are not allowed in the ungreat tradition of South African off-spinners.
Unless you count Hugh Tayfield’s habit of kissing his cap before handing it to the umpire, and toeing his ground at the top of his run. Or Pat Symcox using super glue to seal the tiny cuts in his spinnings finger. Or Johan Botha’s repeated run-ins with the bowling action police.
But they were, in some senses, pretenders to this shabby throne.
Tayfield was a master of flight who took 170 wickets in 37 tests. Imagine how many more he might have claimed had he actually turned the ball?
Symcox was a rerouted opening batsman who, fierce competitor though he was, talked a better game than he played.
Botha started life in big cricket as a medium pacer – he opened the bowling with Meyrick Pringle in his second first-class match – and is ending it as an Australian citizen.
Piedt, too, has a touch of the impostor about him: he opened the batting throughout his junior career, including for South Africa’s under-19 team.
But he also bowled for much of that time, and it is with the ball that he has blossomed into that rare and wonderful thing – the off-spinner who thinks, and performs, like a strike bowler; with turn and bounce and dazzle.
And now he’s in New Zealand with South Africa’s squad, primed for the second chapter of a test career that started in a blaze of seven wickets in Harare – even Zimbabwean scalps count for something – but was stalled by a serious shoulder injury, uncertainty about his future with the Cobras to the extent that he was loaned to the Titans, and the emergence of rivals at international level.
In December, Piedt’s agent, Francois Brink, said that if his client was offered a Kolpak deal “it will be considered with due seriousness”.
The K-word doesn’t sting when it’s applied to players who cry race and leave because they can’t cut it at the top. But to have it tagged to the name of someone like Piedt hits hard in too many ways.
Happily, two of the hurts have now been healed, in the Cobras’ case well enough for Piedt to be appointed captain of their first-class team.
The third took an important step towards resolution when Piedt arrived in Wellington on Sunday.
He has not been summoned as an injury replacement, but rather because of what the South Africans saw in the two one-day internationals they played at Seddon Park in Hamilton earlier in their tour.
Despite the format, both surfaces offered sharp turn. So much so that, on one of them, Tim Southee ditched his usual seam bowling and turned to fast off-spin.
With the tour returning to Hamilton on Saturday for the third test, South Africa could use the option of being able to pick another spinner from a squad in which left-armer Keshav Maharaj was their only specialist slow bowler.
The four left-handers in New Zealand’s top six and the likely return from injury of Trent Boult, their left-arm fast bowler, at Seddon Park made Piedt’s call-up a no-brainer for Faf du Plessis.
“New Zealand have a lot of left-handers and that creates a lot of rough for the off-spinner,” South Africa’s captain said this week.
“It’s about making sure you tap into what they’re trying to use.
“If Boult is fit for the last test, which I assume he will be, it’s a plan of theirs to create rough for their off-spinner, (Jeetan) Patel.
“If they do that for themselves then they create some rough for our off-spinner as well.”
Piedt would have enjoyed the sound of that: “ … our off-spinner”.
If he plays – and why wouldn’t he? – he can expect to be properly captained by a man who has been doing just that with aplomb for two tests in this series.
He will step into a dressingroom that is more settled now than when he first did so in August 2014, and that has regained the respect it lost in 2015-16 along with five of the eight tests.
When will Piedt step into his house again? That’s not just anyone asking. It’s Corona.