Rangana Herath Keshav Maharaj Sri Lanka South Africa Tests 2018
The old and the new: Rangana Herath (left) and Keshav Maharaj bowling in the first Test © AFP

Keshav Maharaj is keen on learning how to bowl in spin-friendly conditions from Rangana Herath, the most prolific wicket-taker among left-arm spinners. Maharaj, himself a left-arm spinner, played his first Test in the Indian subcontinent last week (at Galle) despite having made his Test debut two years ago. Maharaj’s numbers — 78 wickets at 28.28 — are easily the finest for a post-apartheid South African spinner. Herath, of course, has 423 wickets, and his abilities do not seem to be on the wane even at forty.

Maharaj was in awe of Herath, as per a Cricket South Africa press release: “His consistency is phenomenal. Left-arm spinners are known to control the game but he does something special. He turns the ball at will, he slides the ball on at will. It is something that I would love to learn in my trade and I will try to get some knowledge from him going forward. I spoke to him when Sri Lanka toured South Africa last year and he gave me some insight, I would like to pick his brain more about playing in subcontinent conditions. He is the best in the world at what he does.”

Maharaj went wicketless in the first innings in Galle, where he was overshadowed by Chinaman bowler Tabraiz Shamsi. However, he made a strong statement with 4 for 58 in the second innings. He attributes his second-innings success to more consistency in length and newfound rhythm: “Everywhere you go in the world you want to be consistent in your lengths to cause the batter to be uncomfortable when you are bowling. That is something I had to pick up quickly after the first innings where I didn’t have a lot of rhythm. I found that in the second innings I put the ball in better areas than I did in the first innings.”

Shamsi has returned back to Sri Lanka after leaving the tour for family reasons but will be available for selection for the must-win match. Maharaj admitted how he has enjoyed having a spinner at the other end after being part of an all-pace attack for long: “Shamsi and I played a bit of domestic cricket together. We’ve always known each other and what we are about, we enjoy bowling together. It is something new for me because I have never bowled with another spinner at international level, but it is a lot of fun.”

He also insists that the morale is high in the South African camp despite the Galle rout: “We have come here as underdogs. Sri Lanka are really good in their conditions, they showed that when they beat Australia here as well. There is everything to play for, South Africans are known to bounce back when we do lose our first match. The boys have worked hard, we are ready to give Sri Lanka a go in their conditions.”