Hailing from a land famed for producing — and they continue to do so — some of the best fast bowlers in the world, Keshav Maharaj did the unthinkable when he was a 12-year-old kid. Having switched focus from batting to an aspiring fast bowler, Maharaj, annoyed with his coach, attempted left-arm spin.
“Actually, I got irritated with the coach one day and I wanted to be that kid who will do something against the coach,” Maharaj tells DH in an exclusive chat following a practice session at the training facility of the Dr YS Rajasekhara Reddy ACA-VDCA Stadium on Monday. “I just bowled one ball and I never looked back ever since. I’d like to think maybe it’s God’s sign of twisting my fate and in terms of how I went with my cricket.”
As fate would have it, ‘rebellion’ Maharaj has now emerged as Proteas’ lead spinner in Tests. The 25-year-old spoke about leading Proteas’ slow bowling charge, the enormous challenge of playing India at home and how he’s looking forward to a good show that would resurrect his staggered limited-overs career. Excerpt…
How hard was it when you switched to spin from pace?
It’s obviously (not too) difficult as a youngster. You can get away a lot when you are younger. I was a batter through primary school and high school and then took up spin. I would have considered myself a genuine all-rounder at that time. As I progressed up and up, spinning started coming along. There are a few people who gave me advice all along but I think it’s just hours of hard work behind close doors. It’s obviously made me the person that I am today.
Thirteen years later, you are the leading spinner for South Africa. Your thoughts and the challenge of playing in India?
I wouldn’t say lead spinner. Dane Piedt has played a handful of Test cricket. He was obviously the first choice before me. Unfortunately he got injured and I sort of got my opportunity. Yeah it’s a nice feeling. I know India is really a tough opposition, they know the conditions very well. They have world-class batsman, some ranked inside top-10 in the world. But I think it’s an exciting challenge. If you wanna be the best in the world, you have to play against the best in the world in their conditions. I like challenges. It’s probably the biggest test you are going to face as a spin bowler, bowling in conditions that suits spinners mostly. And you’ve got highly skilled batters from the Indian team. So it’s a good challenge. You only can judge yourself once you play against the best. Hopefully I can come on the good side of things.
Have you spoken to anyone from the sub-continent? What homework have you done?
I’ve been bowling back home. Try to keep my plans more simple rather than complicating things. I just chatted with various people. The support staff we have over here and obviously some ex-players in terms of overseas and global players who have played in India. If watch some like (R) Ashwin and (Ravindra) Jadeja, apart from their variations, its just the consistency they bring in. Making the batsman really uncomfortable for long periods of time. I had a good chat with Rangana (Herath) when he was in South Africa in 2-3 years ago. He told me not to try and emulate oneself. He just told me to bowl simple lines, simple plans and use subtle variations. The main thing is to be consistent.
You are a regular member in the Tests but have not been able to cement a place in the limited-overs side. Why?
We had Imran Tahir in the limited overs side. I had played a handful of games and I’m hoping now. Tahir has retired from one-day cricket and I am hoping now a few opportunities come my way. I think for me personally, if I have to get into white-ball cricket, it’ll be if I can contribute some runs lower down the order.
There are a few guys who have put their hands up and have taken the opportunity, (Tabraiz) Shamsi been one of them. There is a process. I guess I have to work hard as nothing comes easy.