The obvious stumbling block to a Maharaj captaincy

Keshav Maharaj (Gallo)
Keshav Maharaj (Gallo)

While Quinton de Kock has been given the Proteas captaincy in both white ball formats, uncertainty remains over who will lead the national side into a new era of Test cricket. 

Faf du Plessis confirmed in February that he would no longer fill that role, bringing an end to a four-year stint as Test skipper that was largely successful. 

Things have been tougher more recently, though, and at 35 Du Plessis has opened the door for a new leader to step in. 

Cricket South Africa (CSA) Director of Cricket Graeme Smith has already confirmed that the new captain will not be De Kock, and since then speculation has been rife over who will be handed the reins. 

There is, of course, uncertainty surrounding when the Proteas will be back in action and July's two-Test tour to the West Indies will almost certainly not go ahead. 

It means that a home series against Sri Lanka in December could be the next Test assignment for the South Africans, so Smith and head coach Mark Boucher do at least have time to contemplate the appointment and ensure that they make the correct decision. 

Aiden Markram, Temba Bavuma, Rassie van der Dussen and Dean Elgar are the men who have been tipped as the favourites, but this week spinner Keshav Maharaj threw his name in the hat too. 

A Maharaj captaincy is not something that many would have pondered, but it certainly is intriguing. 

Now 30-years-old, Maharaj has notched up 30 Test capos for the Proteas and he has established himself as comfortably the country's first-choice spinner in the format. 

From the very beginning of his international career, he began carving out a reputation for himself as a spinner who could be used as either an attacking or defensive option, depending on the game situation. 

History tells us that South African Test captains should be top order batsmen - Shaun Pollock is the only exception (Mark Boucher did stand in for four Tests) - but Maharaj does come with proven leadership experience. 

He has captained the Dolphins in all formats in recent years - including this season's One Day Cup, which the Dolphins won - and, along the way, has further established himself as an intelligent student of the game and a leader who is sensitive to the needs of the players around him. 

The obvious problem with a Maharaj Test captaincy, though, is that he is not always guaranteed a place in the starting XI. 

Especially when travelling to the highveld, the South African brains trust almost always considers going into Test matches without a specialist spinner. 

This was particularly true during the Ottis Gibson era where the fast bowling stocks were considered the major strength of the side, but even new coach Mark Boucher has shown that he is not against the idea of going in without spin. 

In the fourth Test against England at the Wanderers in January in Boucher's first series as coach, Maharaj was left out for an all-seam attack comprising of Vernon Philander, Beuran Hendricks, Dane Paterson, Anrich Nortje and Dwaine Pretorius. 

South Africa were walloped by 191 runs to lose the series 3-1, but for Maharaj it was another harsh reminder that he might not always be required. 

That, more than anything, is the stumbling block to a potential captaincy. 

There are many who believe that the Proteas should always field a spinner in their Test side, regardless of the conditions. Some of the best Test sides in history followed that method, with the nature of the surface irrelevant. 

If the Proteas took a decision at the top to go that route, then that would change the conversation entirely. 

The other potential issue with giving your first-choice spinner the captaincy comes in the form of work-load. 

Captaincy requires constant attention to detail and positioning is a part of that. It is why captains historically place themselves in the slip cordon or at mid-off - somewhere where they can see the entire field setting. 

Depending on the match situation and the conditions, Maharaj could find himself bowling seriously long spells from one end as the pace attack rotates from the other. 

It means that, for hours at a time, Maharaj would have to split his focus between his bowling and his captaincy and that is potentially problematic. Pollock obviously had to do the same during his 26 Tests as skipper, but his spells were a lot shorter. 

It is promising, though, that Maharaj has put his hand up. At this time of renewal, strong characters are important to the Proteas and even if he does not land the captaincy, Maharaj's willingness to lead should be encouraged and nurtured.

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