TELFORD VICE in Wellington
SOUTH African spinners last took a dozen or more wickets in a test not played in sub-continent conditions more than 60 years ago.
In February 1957, Hugh Tayfield claimed 13/232 to help South Africa win the fourth test against England by 17 runs at the Wanderers.
Three weeks earlier, Tayfield and Clive van Ryneveld had combined to take 12/177 in the drawn Kingsmead test.
Those records stood until this weekend, when Keshav Maharaj and JP Duminy grabbed 12/138 to bowl South Africa to an eight-wicket victory over New Zealand in three days at the Basin Reserve in Wellington.
That marked only the 15th time in the 410 tests South Africa have played anywhere that their slow bowlers have taken 10 or more wickets – or 3.66% of the time.
A lot can happen to a cricket culture in 60 years. South Africa’s, for instance, veered away from spin and towards fast bowling.
And, it bears pointing out considering Maharaj and Duminy are of colour, apartheid is no longer the law of the land: it when Tayfield and Van Ryneveld did their thing.
These days, merit plays a far greater role in selection than it did when places in South Africa’s team were reserved for whites only.
Claude Henderson, South Africa’s spin consultant, has lived through some of those changes.
Pace dominated the attack in the seven tests the slow left-armer played between September 2001 and October 2002.
Henderson was the only spinner South Africa used in five of those games, and their slow bowlers never took more than seven wickets.
That was less a comment on their performance than the fact that they had to be satisfied with the leftovers once the quicks had had their fill.
But, with left-arm spinner Maharaj taking five-wicket hauls in both tests in this series, off-spinner Dane Piedt having joined the squad ahead of the third test in Hamilton on Saturday, and four slow bowlers named among the 21 players Cricket South Africa (CSA) have contracted for 2017-18, the country’s spin stocks are healthy.
“It’s fantastic to see that the spin culture is growing, but it’s important that it keeps growing and that the right messages get sent to those spinners coming through,” Henderson said.
“(CSA) have changed the policy at youth level, where the idea is to bowl more spin in their competitions.
“T20 has helped because successful teams will have one or two good spinners, and while our conditions sometimes don’t favour spin we play a lot of cricket in the subcontinent.
“And there’s no more Jacques Kallis. You need somebody in the test side who is able to hold the game in any conditions, whether it’s day one at the Wanderers or day four in India.”
Maharaj is the shining example of what happens when the system works.
His 13 scalps at 13.92 have made him the test series’ leading bowler, and he should add to that success on Hamilton’s slower, turning surface.
“He has worked very hard over the last 12 months on certain technical things,” Henderson said.
“He has got a good mind, he is a good listener, and he is growing as a bowler.”
Sixty years from now, Maharaj’s career will be but a memory.
But it looks likely to be worth remembering.