While the attention of cricketing world is rivetted on the World Test Championship final in England, South Africans found an unlikely hero in Keshav Maharaj in another part of the cricketing universe. The left-arm spinner became the first bowler from his country to claim a Test hat-trick in 61 years as his side completed a moraleboosting 2-0 series sweep against West Indies with a 158-run victory in Saint Lucia on Monday.
At 31, the left-arm spinner is no rookie but often goes under the radar – being the practitioner of a craft in a country whose cricket has been dominated by the fast bowlers. The top five wicket-takers in Tests for South Africa tells its own story – Dale Steyn, Shaun Pollock, Makhaya Ntini, the fearsome Allan Donald and Morne Morkel.
It’s in this countext that one has to look at Maharaj’s career figures – 129 wickets off 36 Tests, with an economy rate of 3.19 since his debut in 2016, making him 11th in their all-time list and only second to Paul Adams as a spinner.
Maharaj picked up a five for 36 in West Indies’ second innings but it was his hat-trick that will live long in the memory, especially as it came when the hosts were beginning to believe they could reach their 324-run victory target.
They had recovered to 107 for three after a poor start when Maharaj claimed the dangerous Kieran Powell (51), who tried to launch him to the midwicket boundary but picked out lone fielder Anrich Nortje.
Allrounder Jason Holder was caught by short-leg Keegan Petersen first ball, and Wiaan Mulder took an excellent diving catch low to his right at leg-slip off Joshua Da Silva to complete the hat-trick.
“Powell was looking to come at me and I just thought about putting the ball in the right area and it found Anrich on the boundary,” Maharaj said at the press conference.
“The second one to Jason, I was trying to bowl a straight delivery and luckily it got an inside edge. The hat-trick ball I had so many things going through my head as to where to put the ball. In the end, I just bowled it normally and Joshua followed it down leg and full credit to Wiaan for a great catch.
“I didnt know what to do (to celebrate), I thought about doing a slide but ended up stopping dead in my tracks. There was too much excitement and adrenalin in me.”
It was only the second Test hat-trick for South Africa after seamer Geoff Griffin achieved the feat against England at Lord’s in 1960. It was the pre-apartheid era for cricket in the rainbow nation, who completed a first away Test series win in four years, which comes as they start a new era under recently appointed captain Dean Elgar.
“There are a lot of positives to take out of the match, but there are also obviously a lot of things we need to work on because there is always room for improvement,” added Maharaj.
“But there is a good buzz in the change room and a sense of pride.”