Cape Town - There was an additional, statistical poignancy to Beuran Hendricks banking a maiden five-wicket haul on Test debut for South Africa at the Wanderers on Sunday.
It was the first time since September 1993 - more than 26 years ago - that a left-arm seamer has achieved the feat in the five-day landscape for the national team.
The previous player to do so was fiery, outright speed merchant Brett Schultz, against Sri Lanka in the third and final Test at Colombo, when he bagged five for 64 in the lone home innings of a rain-affected, drawn encounter that ensured the tourists took the series honours 1-0.
Schultz, now 49, had shared particularly potent opening-bowling honours with Allan Donald in the first-time SA series on that soil, and would earn the player-of-the-series mantle for his 20 wickets despite the unfavourable conditions, including two five-fors.
A big-boned customer who landed heavily with his slingshot action, Schultz’s career was sadly blighted by injury and he played only nine Tests in total, although able to boast 37 wickets at an eye-catching average of 20.24.
Hendricks relies a lot more on guile than sheer pace and hostility, of course, but it was a satisfying development for the besieged Proteas, nevertheless, that he stuck to his guns so admirably at the Bullring - day three of the fourth and final Test against England - to earn his landmark.
Yes, there was a certain degree of artificiality involved (as some hard-to-please observers weren’t slow to point out on social media) given that the English were on a low-pressure run chase in their second innings, having achieved a sizeable first-knock lead of 217.
But should that have meant that Hendricks and company - in a Vernon Philander-absent Proteas attack that knuckled down to its collective task with welcome character - go belly-up and simply allow their foes to make hay?
That they didn’t (England were bowled out for 248, and curbed to a manageable run rate of almost exactly four to the over despite their obvious adventurism) was a tick in the box for him and another rookie in Dane Paterson, both of whose presence in the spinner-lacking team had come under some criticism.
Whatever the merits of his specific five-wicket landmark on Sunday, bear in mind that South Africa have fielded three other Test left-arm pacemen in the period since Schultz retired (Charl Willoughby, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Wayne Parnell) and none of those has ever grabbed one.
Hendricks had found the going tougher in the England first innings, where he registered 1/111 in 23 overs, and qualifies as part of an inexperienced cluster of Proteas players described by assistant coach Jacques Kallis as having to “learn on the job”.
But the observation of former SA head coach Eric Simons on SuperSport commentary that the Lions-based player, 29, demonstrated superior intensity and rhythm the second time around could also hardly be disputed.
Like Schultz, interestingly, Hendricks has had his share of injury-related angst over the years, and the very fact that he was able to claw his way to a Test cap in this series - admittedly helped by the controversial Johannesburg suspension to strike ace Kagiso Rabada - was a testament of his character.
That pace bowlers’ special bogey, stress fracture of the back, is among the drawbacks the Capetonian has faced in his first-class career, something that forced a remodelling of his action to slightly more front-on and has been an impediment to his once livelier pace, too.
But a strong heart remains one of a cricketer’s more useful attributes, and Hendricks clearly sports that.
He may well now have secured a berth (even if he slips a little down the pecking order to squad back-up stocks with Rabada back and Lungi Ngidi also potentially in the mix) on the next-up Test assignment: two against West Indies in the Caribbean in mid-year.
If a frontline pace onslaught of Rabada, Ngidi and the booming Anrich Nortje seems the premier five-day medicine for the Proteas going forward, Hendricks will be an attractive candidate for the tour party just for the natural form of variety he brings to a bowling arsenal.
Sunday’s Wanderers spirit will have done him no harm ...
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