Proteas

Maharaj's place in danger for Centurion

Keshav Maharaj (Getty)
Keshav Maharaj (Getty)

Cape Town - He is the most promising spin bowler the Proteas have had on the Test stage for a long, long time, but that doesn't mean that Keshav Maharaj is a shoo-in for the second Test at Centurion. 

As was the case ahead of the first Test at Newlands, selection is a major talking point for Saturday. 

The wicket in Pretoria is expected to be just as seamer-friendly as the Cape Town strip was, with pace, bounce and movement on offer for the quicks. 

Of the 40 wickets to fall at Newlands, 37 belonged to the seamers and that trend looks set to continue on the Highveld.

Speaking after his side’s win on Monday, Gibson made it abundantly clear that he wants to keep playing four specialist seamers throughout the series.

His views on Maharaj, though, were less convincing.  

"He is still a very important part of our group, whether he plays or not," the coach offered. 

South Africa are likely to go for one of Duanne Olivier, Lungi Ngidi or Chris Morris as Dale Steyn's replacement but they will field four quicks. That much is certain.

Maharaj, though, bowled just 10 overs in the entire Cape Town Test match, and that was without Steyn on the field in the second innings. 

If that is going to be the case once more in Pretoria, then it doesn't make much sense having a spinner in the side. 

Of course, there is no way of knowing how a Test match will progress. If India do offer more resistance and their batsmen occupy the crease for longer periods, then Maharaj will certainly come into play. 

But with four fit and, hopefully, firing seamers operating, would it not make sense to go with the extra batsman instead? 

In both innings in Cape Town, the Proteas found themselves in trouble. 

They were 12/3 in their first dig while, on day four, they lost eight wickets before lunch. 

While he still boasts just one century from his 27 Test matches, Temba Bavuma's successes on the international stage have generally come when South Africa have had their backs against the wall. 

During those early wobbles on day one, there was a general consensus that such a situation was made for the nuggety right-hander. 

Bavuma is incredibly balanced at the wicket, he leaves well and he has a good understanding of where his off stump is. If the ball moves around the way that it did in Cape Town, those could be valuable skills to have. 

Maharaj did chip in with a very handy 35 in the first innings and is more than capable with the bat, but including Bavuma in the top order would allow Quinton de Kock to shift down to No 7 and the Proteas batting line-up would look significantly stronger. 

Aiden Markram and Dean Elgar also offer spinning options should Faf du Plessis desperately need them, but given what we saw in the first Test it is the seamers who will be the big players in this series. 

Maharaj has notched up 56 Test wickets at an average of just 25.6 and, based on what we have seen in years past, that is seriously impressive. 

There is no doubt that he has a major role to play in South Africa's endeavours to get back to the top of the pile in Test cricket, but one of the key strengths of this group at the moment is their flexibility. 

There is enough quality depth for the South African brains trust to make selection decisions based on specific conditions. 

When playing anywhere else in the world, it is hard to see Maharaj not being picked. But, right now, playing him doesn't seem a necessity. 

Follow Sport24's @LloydBurnard on Twitter ...

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