Wilting Proteas in a spin ahead of 3rd Test

George Linde (Getty)
George Linde (Getty)

Cape Town - The Proteas, quite simply, look to be on a hiding to nothing heading into the third Test against India in Ranchi.

As if things weren’t bad enough following two heavy defeats in the series, South Africa have now lost spinner Keshav Maharaj and opening batsman Aiden Markram to injury.

Neither of those two players have been in any noticeable form in India so far, but their absence at this time is set to provide the Proteas with another massive test of depth.

George Linde is the replacement in the squad for Maharaj, but how the Proteas present their spinning arsenal this weekend is now a huge challenge.

Maharaj, for a long time now, has been South Africa’s first-choice by some distance.

Much of that has to do with the fact that he possesses an ability to both defend and attack in Test cricket, depending on the match situation.

It hasn’t worked out that way in India, though, and he has been too inaccurate to hold up and end with his left-arm, over the wicket.

Instead, the Indian batsmen have taken the game to him and have been rewarded.

Despite that, Maharaj was easily South Africa’s most used bowler in the first two matches, bowling a staggering 127 overs across India’s three innings, going for 514 runs at a rate of over 4.00 to the over.

That return is nowhere near what South Africa would have expected from the premier slow bowler, but it is clear that captain Faf du Plessis still trusts Maharaj more than he does Dane Piedt and newcomer Senuran Muthusamy.

Piedt, dropped for the second Test, traveled for 209 runs from just 36 overs (5.80 rpo) in the series opener, picking up just one wicket.

Muthusamy, meanwhile, is considered more of a batsman than a bowler and Du Plessis has made that clear with how he has used him with the ball.

It leaves the brains trust with a crucial decision to make.

One of the spinners will need to do the bulk of the bowling in Ranchi, and given how loose Piedt was a couple of weeks ago, that could end up being Linde despite him being untested at Test level.

A giant of a man, the 27-year-old is fresh off picking up 11 wickets while on duty for the Cape Cobras against the Lions in Potchefstroom in the 4-Day Franchise Series last week.

He can also hit the ball a long way and has a good eye, but that will not be a factor in his potential selection for a Test debut.

Instead, Du Plessis will want Linde to bowl accurately and get through as many overs as possible for as little as possible. Containing the Indian batsmen has been the biggest issue for the South African spinners.

It would be harsh on Piedt to be sidelined once again given that he has had just one bad performance, but the absence of any left handers in the Indian top order might make Linde a more attractive option.

Either way, South Africa go into an incredibly daunting Test match without proven experience in their spin bowling department.

The other task at hand is to settle on a replacement opening batsman for Markram, who has injured his wrist in bizarre fashion while striking something in anger following his dismissal in the second innings in Pune.

On the surface, Temba Bavuma seems the likeliest option given that he filled the same role during the 2015 tour to India.

The problem here, though, is that Bavuma is trying to establish himself as a leader in the South African middle order, where he has been short of runs on this tour.

Bavuma might be able to do a job for one Test, but how much would it help him long-term? He is a player who is often moved up and down the order depending on what the requirements are, and now he could find himself thrown to the top of the order once more.

Zubayr Hamza will almost certainly replace Markram in the side to earn his second Test cap, meaning that an already fragile South African top order will now have an even more inexperienced feel to it.

It is all pointing towards a tough few days for the Proteas, but the shining light is that things can’t get much worse.

The third Test gets underway on Saturday, with play starting at 06:00 (SA time).

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