South Africa announced their Test Squad for Australia yesterday and it had quite a few surprises, considering their usual pattern of selecting teams. Until now, consistency in selection was a major basis for selecting South African teams.
The tried and the tested was always preferred over the newbies.
Thankfully, for the fans, the selection committee under Linda Zondi has come up with an exciting squad with the right mix of experience and youth. In the absence of their flamboyant skipper, AB De Villiers, who is targeting a comeback for the third Test, Faf du Plessis will lead the side.
One of the major talking points in the team selected was the inclusion of spinners, Tabraiz Shamsi and Keshav Maharaj. The left arm spinners were given the nod ahead of Dane Piedt, who has been very dependable.
While it raised a few questions, and Maharaj are both exciting talents. Though Piedt is a tad unlucky to miss out, his numbers do not impress in the limited opportunities he has got.
Piedt started off his Test career with a bang, taking an 8 wicket haul in his debut Test against Zimbabwe. An injury sidelined him from the squad for the West Indies and Bangladesh Tests, where Simon Harmer made a mark with his stump to stump line.
The tour to India saw both the off-spinners picked but Piedt had to wait for his chance till Delhi, where he picked up a 4 wicket haul in the first innings.
Piedt continued to impress against England, where he picked up his first five-wicket haul in Tests in Durban. While he was indeed impressive, it was his economy rate that was an issue. Even in the Durban Test, where he picked up five in the second innings, he conceded at 4.25 runs an over.
In Cape Town, he went wicketless for 118 runs at 4.48. Though he pulled things back in Centurion, there wasn't much to show for in the wickets column. The trend continued in the Test series against the Kiwis, where he went at 5.14 and 4.33 runs per over in each innings, picking up just a wicket in each innings.
Maharaj and Shamsi, meanwhile, had terrific outings in the SunFoil series, where even Piedt performed admirably.
Shamsi's claim for a spot
In the 2013-14 season, Shamsi, when playing for Kwa-Zulu Natal Inland was the third highest wicket-taker in the provincial three-day competition. He took 47 wickets at 20.02 and at an economy of 3.20.
Last season, his breakthrough summer in franchise cricket, he finished as the joint second highest wicket-taker in the Sunfoil Series, South Africa's first-class competition, with 41 scalps at 19.97 and an economy of 3.29. He also picked up five five wicket-hauls in the competition.
Shamsi's variations caught the eyes of the IPL, the CPL and the South African selectors, who included him in a triangular series in the Caribbean in June, where he troubled the Aussies. He played alongside Imran Tahir, who has become a mentor of sorts. The left-arm chinaman bowler has all the right tricks up his sleeve to trouble the Aussies.
The spinner deserves to be in the Test team, especially since the Aussies found it very difficult to handle him in the ODI series. While the ploy could go totally wrong like it did when Tahir was picked for Tests in Australia, it is worth a gamble.
His first-class record is impressive and Shamsi deserves the recognition that he is getting.
Maharaj edges out Piedt
Maharaj is possibly the surprise pick over Piedt. While Dane Piedt is extremely unlucky to miss out as he hardly had a chance to bowl in the Cobras’ opening fixture; a match in which just 627 runs were scored across four innings.
The spinner probably just edged Piedt thanks to his batting ability. Maharaj averages 22.81 in 101 innings in first-class cricket, which includes two hundreds and seven fifties, much better than Piedt’s 15.31 average with a high score of 92.
But there is another angle to his selection as convenor of selectors Linda Zondi said post the team selection.
"Basically, we are following a horses for courses policy as we feel that spinners who turn the ball away from the right-hander are going to be particularly useful in Australian conditions and against the Test batsmen we are likely to face. I am excited about the cover we have in this area with a wrist spinner and a left-arm orthodox spinner, with JP Duminy able to offer the right-arm variety as well."
Zondi has a point. Australia's Test line-up boasts of Smith, Voges, Neville, Mitchell Marsh in the middle order, all of whom are right-handers. While Piedt may have had left-handers in Warner and Shaun Marsh or Khawaja to bowl at, they are all openers, who may not face the spinners too much.
Maharaj has been pretty good in the SunFoil series. He took 13 for 157 in the Dolphins’ season opener last week and finished last season with 36 wickets at an average of 32.00. In the absence of a genuine all-rounder (Chris Morris is out injured), Maharaj and Philander could form a decent lower order for South Africa.
Outcome of selection
While chances are slim that both play together, it is to be seen which of Maharaj and Shamsi gets to play first. Given that the Perth and Adelaide (day-night Test) may give South Africa the opportunity to play four quicks with Duminy as the lone spinner, the Hobart Test might be the only one where either of Shamsi or Maharaj could fit in.
Though Piedt might consider himself unlucky to miss out, he would do well to work on his economy rate and consistency. Still, the inclusion of two rookie spinners is a bold move from a side which has been accused of sticking with the tried and tested.
Piedt was South Africa's third-highest wicket-taker in the England series, with 10 scalps at 45.50, and was South Africa A's joint-highest wicket-taker in their two unofficial Tests against Australia A, which makes him not being selected even more intriguing.
But the 'horses for courses' policy is justified, and Shamsi and Maharaj could prove many wrong Down Under.