It has been a weird tour for South Africa. In the Tests, they were more abject than anyone could have imagined, crash-landing in Galle where they slumped to 73 all out – their worst total since readmission – before being soundly thrashed in Colombo as well. Now in the final match of the tour, they have collected another worst-ever total, dismissed for 98 in the one-off T20I at Khettarama. In between though, there were rollicking ODI wins, and a real sense of depth to their one-day squad, as they surged clinically to three straight wins, before taking their foot off the pedal for the dead rubbers.
Out of eight matches in Sri Lanka, South Africa won only three games, and yet, even though that reads like a poor result, it could actually have been worse, said T20I captain JP Duminy. At least on this trip to South Asia there were some reasons to smile. That hasn’t always been the case at the end of tours to this part of the world.
“I don’t think we’re walking away from Sri Lanka with negativity,” Duminy said. “I think there’s a lot of positives. I’ve certainly experienced many tours of the subcontinent when you walk away with your head in your hands not knowing where your next run or next wicket is going to come from. Yes there’s disappointment about the Test series, but from a one-day perspective, we’ve taken huge strides in my opinion. I’m excited by the brand of cricket we’re trying to adopt. I believe we can only get better.”
Perhaps the biggest of South Africa’s “positives” is the state of their spin stocks. They left the tried-and-true Imran Tahir out of the limited-overs squads, in order to test out the other talent, and they could hardly have hoped for better returns from the younger slow bowlers. Left-arm wristspinner Tabraiz Shamsi was excellent in the three ODIs he played, taking six wickets at an average of 23.00, with an economy rate of less than five. He was also good in the T20I, where his two late wickets came close to turning the game in South Africa’s favour. Keshav Maharaj, meanwhile, had been outstanding in the Test series, finishing as the equal-highest wicket-taker with 16 dismissals at an average of 24.37. Add Tahir back into the mix, and South Africa’s spin stocks have perhaps never been so healthy.
“Tabraiz is an exciting prospect for South African cricket and he’s a wicket-taker,” Duminy said. “If you look at Imran Tahir who’s been a match-winner for us for many years, to have another one coming through now, it’s fantastic. Even Keshav Maharaj has been a match-winner for South Africa. That’s exciting to see for our spin department. Spin coach Claude Henderson has played a big role in that, working with the spinners. It’s exciting to see them put their hands up in these conditions.”
Given this is South Africa – a team that for much of its history has been modest in the spin-bowling department – it is strange to consider that they could bowl two frontline wristspinners in tandem in one-day cricket. Sri Lanka’s batsmen were not adept at picking Shamsi through the course of the one-dayers, and have often floundered against Tahir. India have taken to fielding a legspinner – Yuzvendra Chahal – and a left-arm wristspinner – Kuldeep Yadav – regularly in their ODI XI, even in places like England. South Africa now also have the option.
“The opportunity to pick both of them is exciting,” Duminy said. “If you have conditions similar to Sri Lanka, or even English conditions – that’s where the World Cup is going to be – that’s a good option to have, if you know that the opposition doesn’t necessarily play spin well. It’s definitely a great feather in our cap.”
They were woeful in the Tests, but in one-dayers at least, South Africa can leave Sri Lanka confident that they are closer to firming up a good World Cup squad.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando
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Source : ESPN Cricinfo