Underrated cricket performers: Keshab Maharaj and why he is so much more than his number

It is almost a misconception to call cricket a team sport, because it is individualistic in its essence. Once the game starts it becomes a personal conflict between the batsman and the bowler and the fielders act as the supporting cast.

But it is only natural that the glittering performances with several centuries or wickets in their name promote fans to stardom. Once enough time has passed, it will be Virat Kohli and Steve Smith whose names will be etched more deeply in the memory of Cricket Afikanodo.

However, there are a number of players who fly under the radar even if they play for the team. These are not exactly quick for players, although they often come under pressure with significant contributions.

In this series, we look at some of these inferior and obsolete men whose contributions deserve more recognition than they currently do. Keshab Maharaj of South Africa is our man in the focus below.

Keshab Maharaj

Age: 30

Test: 30

Wickets: 110

Average: 33.19

After making his first-class debut in 2006 at the age of 1, Keshab Maharaj had to wait almost a decade before getting his first call-up to the South African team.

Coming from a country where spinners have largely retreated to the pacers, Maharaj’s path to the national team has never been easier.

After initially developing cricket as a pacer, the youngster was finally called up as a spinner at the age of 12. True new mode stuck with him and since then he has become one of the best spinners produced in South Africa.

A classic and orthodox left-handed spinner on a business basis, Maharaj’s South Africa call-up was an award for topping the domestic wicket-taking charts in the 2014-15 and 2015-15 seasons.

It was somewhat appropriate that Southwap’s Test debut came in Perth all over the place against Australia in 201 against. As a result, Maharaj became the first expert spinner in history to build a Test bow on his own field, known as the paradise of pace bowlers forever.

Taking four wickets to record a fine of 41 with the bat, Maharaj showed that he was here with his performance in the WAACA.

Since then, Maharaj has worked hard enough to establish himself in the South African Test XI and has now also started taking part in limited-overs teams.

Style

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Variations have now become the norm for higher-level spinners, with the Maharaja lagging behind in earlier eras with reliance on dwarfs and turn.

A bowler who loves to fly a lot on the ball, Maharaj has become adept at playing most of the cricket in situations that are not suitable for spinners.

Only Rabichandran Ashwin, Nathan Lyon and Rabindra Jadeja have taken more wickets than South Africa since their Test debut in November 2016.

The bowling average of more than 33 does not suit Maharaj, the numbers do not tell the whole story of his brilliance. Only four appearances in his 30 Tests so far have come to Asia with the South African majority (17).

Despite being largely deprived of subcontinental supportive spin bowling conditions, Maharaj is still one of the top spinners in the world.

Over the last few years, South Africa’s pitches have been built to suit their great pace attacks, with Maharaj even being dropped from the playing XI several times for his all-pace attacks.

Nevertheless, the left-arm was able to manage a respectable 34 average at home, while the induced protea pace proved to be the perfect complement to the attack.

He is a batting batsman to reduce order for South Africa, and has shown his batting chop with the previous two half-centuries.

Memorable display

9-129 vs Sri Lanka, Colombo (2018)

Your Majesty

In the most memorable display of the maharaja so far, South Africa ran on the turning track in Colombo with the Sri Lankan batting order. The hosts got off to a great start before Maharaj broke the 116-run stand between Dimuth Karunaratne and Dashun Gunathilakar.

He will take eight more wickets in the innings as Sri Lanka are finally bowled out for 338. Unfortunately, Maharaj lost his sensational image as his South African batsmen came under pressure. Nevertheless, his 9-122 in the first innings was South Africa’s second best bowling performance after Hugh Tayfield’s 9-111 against England in 1957.

This is the second time in history that a left-arm spinner has claimed nine wickets in an innings.

6-40 vs New Zealand, Wellington (2017)

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Maharaj came to Wellington during the second Test against New Zealand in 2013 to win for South Africa. He took two wickets in the first innings to limit the hosts to 266 runs.

In reply, the Proteas batsmen secured a 91-run stand before the Maharajah provided Death Contel with a final composition in the second innings for New Zealand. Moran Morkel made three first breakthroughs for the visitors before Maharaj claimed six scalps in just 20 overs. The Kiwis were bowled out for just 111 to give South Africa a 1-0 lead in the series with an eight-wicket win.

Maharaj’s famous performance aptly awarded him the Man of the Match award.

5-94 vs New Zealand, Dunedin (2017)

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In his first ride on New Zealand soil, Maharaj showed the skill of how a fast wicket can be a success. Dean Elgar gifted a ton of 308 runs to South Africa in one fight, but it was at risk of comfort after a strong start to New Zealand’s top-order.

A century strike for the second wicket between Jeet Rawal and Kane Williamson threatened to take the game away from South Africa, even before Maharaj made a decisive intervention. Southpowers out half-centurion Rawal and BJ Watling on their way to five runs in Test cricket.

His performance helped limit New Zealand’s first innings lead to just 33, with South Africa subsequently involved in a draw.

5-123 and 4-102 vs Australia, Durban (2018)

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In the infamous series that would ultimately be tarnished by the story of ball tampering, Maharaj made a significant impression with his fighting performance in the opening Test.

Australia were 151-3 in the first innings before Maharaj came on and Steve Smith was dismissed. Australia scored a total of 351 runs as Proteas claimed four more scalps in the spinner innings. However, the visitors took a 179-run lead as the South African batsmen turned against Mitchell Starc’s reverse swing.

In the second innings too, Mazaraj took four wickets in the marathon overall spell of about 30 overs till the end of the bargain. Unfortunately, his nine-wicket match went in vain when the Aussies won the series opener by 118 runs. Despite the results, his clinical performance on a dry track is further evidence for his craftsmanship and cunning.

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