Promising Harmer may just be what SA need for a complete attack

2015-01-10 00:00

THE Test series against the West Indies went as expected, with the Proteas running out comfortable winners against a team that rarely looked up for the kind of prolonged contest necessary to upset the number one team in the world. Brief displays of resistance inevitably gave way to moments of indiscretion that allowed the South Africans to assert a dominance that was never in doubt.

The three Test matches revealed little new about the national Test team. The bowling attack, as it has done for some years, rested on the efforts of Dale Steyn, Morné Morkel and Vernon Philander — the triumvirate that the local commentators endlessly refer to as “the best attack in the world” as if such an assertion was so obvious as to be beyond discussion. It appears to be beyond Supersport’s wise men that no three-man attack should ever be regarded as a complete hand, let alone one that has long been without a spin bowler.

The first Test was contested without a spinner in the home team. The selectors trundled out the foreign-born Imran Tahir for the second match in Port Elizabeth where they found, yet again, that the wandering wrist spinner leaks too many runs to justify his place in a team that prize control above all else from their slow man. For the final match at New­lands, the selectors settled on Simon Harmer, who, one thought, might have been given his debut match on his home ground at St Georges Park.

Harmer proved to be an interesting choice. He bowls with a tidy, technically sound action that achieves the loop that is the sine qua non of all top class spin bowlers. It is this loop that provides a spinner not only with good bounce, but also the means for the deception that is necessary for the dismissal of good batsmen. Harmer bowled with the control required by his captain, but also contrived to pick up seven wickets in the match, as many as Steyn, and one more than Philander’s haul for the series.

Certainly Harmer was confronted with an indifferent batting line-up but among them were two good players of spin bowling, Marlon Samuels and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, whose bat edges he found only for AB De Villiers to drop the offered catches. After his let off, Samuels went after Harmer whose length wavered under pressure, but all things considered it was an impressive and promising start by the young off-spinner to what ought to be a good Test career. One might even overlook his gormless batting when he deprived a rampant De Villiers of the strike for the best part of 40 minutes.

If one wants to be picky, I felt that Steyn and Philander looked less penetrative with the new ball than they have been. Steyn, of course, has much more in his arsenal to be considered just a new ball wicket taker, but the same is not true of Philander, who finished the series with just six wickets. Neither of them looked like the bowlers who combined to shoot out Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan for less than 50 runs within the space of a year.

Fast bowlers have comparatively short careers and it is sobering to realise that Steyn’s Test career has been as long as that of De Villers and Hashim Amla. As I have said before, it would be comforting to know if a name could be attached to his successor but, sadly, that is not the case. Morkel, however, finished the series with 13 wickets, and showed that he learned the lessons of last summer when he consistently bowled too short.

All the batsmen, save Alviro Pietersen, got something from this series. This was to be expected against a weak attack that lost its best bowler so early. Poor Alviro has jumped before being shoved following too many squandered starts. He was unlucky to be foolishly run out by Faf du Plessis who ought to have been aware that his partner could not afford to be placed at risk while running between the wickets. Pietersen played some superb innings for the Proteas, but he will regret that he did not turn so many good starts into telling scores. He will be missed in the slips where his catching has been quite brilliant.

Now, a bizarre rumour has surfaced that the selectors are keen to see Graeme Smith back in harness next summer. The former captain is thought to have fully recovered from the injuries that plagued his last two seasons. There may be no truth in this rumour but Smith has probably reached that stage of early retirement when he has become disturbingly aware that he is a long time retired from the game that he adorned with such distinction.

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