TELFORD VICE in London
WHO’S that lolloping up the hill, winning smile on his face, bright eyes on the prize, a fine future rippling in his gait? It is, isn’t it? Indeed, it is.
If you see Keshav Maharaj in the street, even if you don’t know who he is, you wouldn’t be surprised to learn he is the best thing to happen to spin bowling in South Africa in years.
Nine tests into his international career, which started in Perth in November, Maharaj has 36 wickets at 25.77.
But he adds value beyond the numbers with flinty batting and daggerish fielding. Which is good because, like all South Africa’s spinners, he does not have the luxury of specialty.
Can bowl, but can’t quite bat and suspect in the field? Try India. Or England, Australia, New Zealand, West Indies …
Anyone besides South Africa, where spinners are not respected enough as bowlers to earn their keep on that score alone.
Happily for Maharaj, then, he’s an asset in all three disciplines. Not that he’s happy with the way some things are going.
“I want to be a three-in-one cricketer, but I haven’t shown my true potential with the bat,” Maharaj said. “I’ve been selling myself short; I’ve got some work to do there.”
A tendency to get himself out after getting himself in has crept into his batting: a player of his ability should have more than two scores of 30 or more in 13 innings.
But these are details of the bigger picture, which is that Maharaj has become more than the sum of his parts.
“The whole bowling unit can thank Keshav,” Morne Morkel said. “For him to bowl exceptionally well and allow the seamers to rotate is something this team has needed desperately.
“The control he gives the team and good quality spin bowling. I’m a massive fan.
“He works hard on his game. He’s the guy on the early bus [to training] every day, and he spends endless hours working with [spin consultant] Claude Henderson.
“They’re always out here first, bowling balls. It’s nice to see a guy putting in the hours and the effort and it pays off.
“It’s rewarding, and it’s motivation for us not to sit on our backsides.”
But that might make Maharaj sound like a player who wouldn’t cut it if all he had to offer was left-arm spin.
Jonny Bairstow would, no doubt, beg to differ — even if it’s on the evidence of nothing but the Maharaj delivery that pitched on middle stump and ripped past the bat to canon into off during England first innings in the second test at Trent Bridge.
That was on the second day of a match played on a pitch that was far kinder to bowlers like Morkel than those of Maharaj’s ilk.
“My first wicket was obviously quite special to me but I’m happy to have that in the memory bank,” Maharaj said.
“Faf [du Plessis] came to me and said, ‘We just going to try and dry up the runs and hopefully that can bring wickets’.
“Luckily I picked up a few sticks.”
Three in each innings, in fact, with more no doubt waiting for him in the third test at The Oval on Thursday.
Until then, he has streets to walk, smiles to smile, prizes to eye — and work to do.