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Ken Borland

Proteas play 2 spinners thanks to all their IP on Wanderers payroll

Posted on March 08, 2023 by Ken

Proteas coach Shukri Conrad made another big call for the Wanderers Test

New Proteas Test coach Shukri Conrad, captain Temba Bavuma, bowling spearhead Kagiso Rabada and batting consultant Neil McKenzie have all been or are currrently on the payroll at the Wanderers for many years, and Conrad said on Tuesday that it was that home ground knowledge that led South Africa to make the shock decision to play two spinners in the second Test against the West Indies, which starts in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

The first question Conrad was asked during Tuesday’s pre-match press conference was whether the hosts had settled on a starting XI, and the transparent coach surprised many when he began reciting the team. That surprise turned to shock when the names Simon Harmer and Keshav Maharaj were called out consecutively at numbers eight and nine.

The debate at the Wanderers is usually whether the Proteas will play even one frontline spinner, but from a pace-heavy attack for the first Test at Centurion, Conrad and the brains trust have now switched to fielding both off-spinner Harmer and left-arm orthodox Maharaj. It is the first time since the 1965 Test (37 matches ago) against England, when orthodox left-armer Atholl McKinnon and offie Harry Bromfield both played, that South Africa have selected two frontline spinners for a Wanderers Test.

But those who have watched much cricket at the Wanderers this year will know that the pitch has been unusually helpful to spinners, offering both turn and bounce. Conrad said they know the Wanderers pitch well enough to know this week’s track is different to what has been in use for Test matches there for several years.

“Frostie [new groundsman Brendon Frost, formerly of Willowmoore Park] has done a good job covering the massive bare patch so that it looks okay. But we have lots of cricket IP [intellectual property] in our squad when it comes to cricket here – myself, Temba, KG, Neil Mac have all been involved with Lions cricket for a long time,” Conrad pointed out.

“In the last year, we’ve seen that spinners do come into play more here. A Test doesn’t have to end on Day Three, and if we go to the fourth and fifth day then spin will definitely come into play.

“The pitch looks a bit abrasive and we think one end is going to be a lot more seamer-friendly. So we’re not just making the change for change’s sake,” Conrad said.

Local knowledge has also led to Ryan Rickelton getting a place in the starting XI, replacing the struggling Keegan Petersen. Since the hero of last summer’s epic series win over India tore his hamstring in the CSA T20 Challenge final in November, he has scored just 85 runs in six innings.

Rickelton, on the other hand, has been in tremendous nick, stroking three centuries in his five four-day innings. His absence from the Proteas team this summer has been perplexing; even his much-debated ankle injury has not been able to justify his omission.

“Ryan deserves a crack, he’s been churning out runs and probably deserves a chance more than anyone,” Conrad admitted. “Ryan is definitely going to be a big part of the side going forward.

“Knowing his character and the way he has performed at domestic level, we can start building a future team around him. I think he’s going to have a long and successful run.

“Keegan was the incumbent and I still think his best position may be number five going forward, looking at the way he plays. The batting unit is still a work in progress, but I think he will have a bigger role to play in the middle-order,” Conrad said.

South Africa: Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Tony de Zorzi, Temba Bavuma, Ryan Rickelton, Heinrich Klaasen, Wiaan Mulder, Simon Harmer, Keshav Maharaj, Gerald Coetzee, Kagiso Rabada.

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