DURBAN – Depending on how gung-ho they feel, the Proteas could go into the first Test against Sri Lanka with three or four fast bowlers.
Whatever they decide upon, though, there appears near certainty that there will be room made for spinner Keshav Maharaj on his home ground.
It is not for sentimental reasons, mind you. Needs must, as captain Faf du Plessis clarified on the eve of the Test.
“They have been struggling with pace for the last season and a half,” Du Plessis said of the curators of the Durban track.
The match will be played on a pitch slightly off centre, closer to the sea. The prime territory, the centre cut, had less grass – and a bit of fungus growing into the surface – but Du Plessis doesn’t expect the grass to be much greener for his mean men on the strip two doors down.
“They prepared two pitches, with one pitch with a bit more grass on it. But I don’t think it will have more pace. There might be movement, but it will be slow,” he pointed out.
With all that said, the way is clear for the left-arm spinner in the squad to take his place again. Maharaj has been commended for his attitude all summer, as he has quietly watched his mates go out and take chunks out of Pakistan.
It has been tough, though, as he said that “cricketers want to play cricket”.
“I think if you look at a general Kingsmead wicket, it allows for a spinner. In a perfect world, against a sub-continent team, you would want to use four quicks,” Du Plessis added, explaining the decisions taken this summer. “There have been a lot of sub-continent teams after each other, and we always try to expose them to fast bowling. It has been harsh on Kesh, because he hasn’t done anything wrong."
With Maharaj seemingly in, the next decision is who to leave out from the four frontline seamers.
Vernon Philander is Vernon Philander, especially with new ball in hand. Duanne Olivier is coming from the breakthrough series of his life, while Kagiso Rabada and Dale Steyn have both come back refreshed and ready to rumble.
As Du Plessis pondered, it may be a case of sacrificing a batsman, and playing all four men along with Maharaj. That would mean both Theunis de Bruyn and Zubayr Hamza sitting out after the Wanderers.
The other option is leaving one fast bowler out, but taking the option of Wiaan Mulder as the all-rounder at No 7.
There has been a lot said about the Highveld Lions starlet, but he has not been exposed too much at the highest level.
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