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A SPIN REVOLUTION

“We don’t often play in conditions that suit us, that favour spin. That’s just the reality of playing in South Africa.” – Muthusamy © BCCI

You wouldn’t think there’s much to celebrate if you’re part of a team who have been dismissed for 131 and 185 and beaten by 160 runs in three days. But that’s not the whole truth if you’re Senuran Muthusamy.

The slow left-armer, who was in the South Africa A side who suffered that fate at the hands of their Sri Lanka counterparts in Pallekele from Monday to Wednesday, took 7/122 and 5/53 to bank career-best first-class match figures of 12/175. None of the visitors’ other bowlers took more than two wickets in an innings and three in the match.

“It was awesome to bowl in these conditions, and to have some success is special,” Muthusamy told Cricbuzz on Wednesday. “These [Sri Lankan] guys grow up playing on these pitches, so it’s nice to be able to get some wickets against them and keep learning on these surfaces.”

Muthusamy grew up in polar opposite conditions in South Africa, where captains and coaches have to talk their fast bowlers down from the high they reach when they see another fast, bouncing, seaming paradise. Whatever the pitch, success requires bowling well.

Nevertheless, there’s no arguing with the truth. The 37 players who have bowled spin for South Africa in Tests at home have taken 337 wickets at 37.72. That pales next to the 2,243 wickets claimed at 23.94 by their 66 fast bowlers used in home Tests. It’s an average of 9.11 wickets per spinner versus 33.99 per pacer.

Does Muthusamy have the flip-side of the fast bowler’s conversation when he sees surfaces like Pallekele’s? “You’ve got to rein yourself in,” he said. “We don’t often play in conditions that suit us, that favour spin. That’s just the reality of playing in South Africa.”

South Africa’s bowlers have a complicated relationship with the subcontinent. Their 34 quicks who have bowled in Tests there have taken 482 wickets at 30.06 – a better average than any non-Asian side except for West Indies’ 28.63. Their 32 spinners have claimed 267 at 37.75 – behind only Australia and England in average terms.

Their fast men have earned 16 five-wicket hauls in Tests in Asia and one 10-for, their slow poisoners 13 and two. That skews the question in favour of pace, but it’s brought back to something like even by the fact that fast bowlers have sent down 61.72% of all the balls delivered by South Africa in Tests in the subcontinent.

Could that equation be up for revision? Muthusamy is part of a generation of South African spinners who are changing ideas about the craft in their country. Slow bowlers have been the majority of the top five domestic first-class wicket-takers in five of the last six seasons. Twenty of those 30 bowlers have been spinners.

Muthusamy brought plenty of that kind of attacking intent to his performance in Pallekele, where nine of his dozen strikes were single-handed: lbw, bowled, or caught and bowled. What was his approach? “To try and get wickets; to bowl the opposition out,” he said.

“In the second innings we didn’t want them to get too many because every run they got we would have to chase in the fourth innings, which isn’t easy in the subcontinent. I probably bowled slightly better in the second innings, and things happened sooner for me. The fielders were great and the seam bowlers supported really well, especially in the second innings. Hopefully we can bat better in the next match.”

Ah yes. About that. Since Keshav Maharaj made his debut in Perth in November 2016 only Kagiso Rabada has taken more Test wickets for South Africa. Among spinners worldwide only Nathan Lyon, R. Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have been more successful since Maharaj arrived. So Maharaj being taken out of the mix for at least six months by rupturing an Achilles during a Test against West Indies at the Wanderers in March must, however unfortunately, open a window for Muthusamy.

Not quite.

“There isn’t much international [red-ball] cricket for us at the moment, so there is no real opportunity,” Muthusamy said. “I’m fully focused on what’s ahead of me and trying to do as well as I can in the team I’m in. That’s where I’m at.”

Where he’s at next is the Rangiri Dambulla Stadium, where the second four-day match of South Africa A’s tour starts on Monday. Muthusamy and his teammates should make the most of it – South Africa seem set to play only one more Test this year, at home against India.

You could be the best spinner – or fast bowler, or batter, or wicketkeeper, or captain or coach, or indeed team – on the planet, but if you aren’t on the park, as many of Test cricket’s second-class citizens won’t be more often than not under the game’s new scheduling model, it won’t matter. So best you celebrate while you can.

© Cricbuzz

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