Cape Town – Kagiso Rabada may be the “leaps and bounds” bowler in the South African Test team, but Dane Piedt is at least on a gradual upward trajectory as well.
For all the talk of the Proteas being tempted to field an all-pace attack once Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander are fit again to join Rabada and Morne Morkel, every side needs a specialist spinner in its broader plans ... and Piedt warrants staying first in line for the moment.
He has not yet opened up a significant enough gap on Simon Harmer, his off-spinning equivalent from the Warriors who also featured on the tour of India before being sacrificed for the England series, to be able to feel totally relaxed about his status in the national set-up.
Harmer is taller, which helps him to get slightly more bounce and potentially fizz the ball more out of the rough on a deteriorating track, but the 25-year-old from the Cape Cobras has a blossoming skill set of his own including a deceptive straight delivery that right-handers seem to find difficult to pick.
The competition between the two is healthy, as evidenced by a recent Sunfoil Series clash at St George’s Park where they not only castled each other in the first innings (Piedt had served a special reminder of his batting credentials by scoring 62) but registered extremely similar match figures: Harmer 9/80 and Piedt 8/86.
The last-named player was given outings in three of the four Tests against England recently, and although plenty of rough edges remained understandably apparent, he gave the impression of being a willing learner and improver.
Piedt certainly finished a series in which he grabbed 10 wickets at 45.50 (turn wasn’t always in finest supply) strongly enough at Centurion, dismissing the visitors’ most talented batsman Joe Root in their short-lived second innings and earlier seeing successive chances to glove-man Quinton de Kock – a stumping and an edge -- go down off his bowling against the same player.
He is still getting to grips with the balance between attack and “holding” a game at appropriate times, but that is to be expected of a spinner with a tally of appearances not yet filling one hand.
There is also the matter of regaining fullest confidence after his major shoulder reconstruction, a battle he appears to be happily winning.
Following his five Tests against three different nations – Zimbabwe, India and England – Piedt has bagged 22 scalps at an average of 35.31 and acceptable economy rate of 3.36.
The figures are not jaw-dropping, but they also provide more than enough ammunition to suggest the start of something rosy from a cricketer who brings pleasing effervescence as a fielder and has also shown stoical defence at times at the international crease.
One former SA captain, the SuperSport pundit Shaun Pollock, saw enough from Piedt in the England series to suggest that he justifies staying the premier spinning option in the short term.
Pollock said he felt the youngster had “been OK” – you cannot always say even that much about South African Test tweakers -- and reminded that someone like Australia’s own offie Nathan Lyon didn’t routinely set the world alight in the initial stages of his Test career, when the Baggy Greens were still desperately hunting for a solution to the massive Shane Warne hole on the spinning front.
Fifty-two Tests later, the 28-year-old Lyon is part of the Aussie furniture and sports 185 wickets at 33.42 – their most productive off-spinner of all time after eclipsing in 2015 the 141-wicket haul of Hugh Trumble way back in the period between 1890 and 1904.
Australia invested in Lyon and the policy bore fruit.
SACS product Piedt may just provide the same reward -- or better, maybe? -- if he is made to feel secure by his own country.
But that also doesn’t mean Harmer won’t stay snapping determinedly at his heels.
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