South African Test Trio: A spinning all-rounder, an Amla-Prince blend and a tearaway
Indian Express 2 Oct 2019 08:24 AM
A raft of South African legends having retired, they are bereft of big names for their trip to the subcontinent. But it could be the coming-of-age series for a number of Proteas personnel, relatively unknown but wizened domestic performers.
Senuran Muthusamy (All-rounder)
A calm easy-on-the-eye left-handed batsman, with a penchant for the off-side, he might not boast a prolific batting average, prompting an assumption that he’s symbolic of South Africa’s deficient batting resources on the domestic circuit. But Muthusamy, a second-generation Indian brought up in the Durban suburb of Westville, has been making steady strides over the last couple of years, scoring tough runs.
Much of his batting is self-taught, poring over reels of his idol Kumar Sangakkara. Like the Sri Lankan legend, he initially kept wickets too before it started putting a strain on his back. Much of what he has taught himself, he passes over to kids in his neighbourhood at the BEST Academy, where he spends his non-cricket-playing time coaching.
In between, when his domestic career seemed plateauing, he completed his bachelor’s degree in media studies. An opener by trade, he could bat anywhere in the order, though his tendency to play one stroke too many early in his innings has hampered his progress. Batting alone, perhaps, wouldn’t have earned him a spot for this tour, but his left-arm spin has been equally resourceful. He began as a part-time offie, but has developed into a reliable option.
In fact, he has been Natal’s lead spinner in the last three seasons —111 wickets at 25. Initially more of a limited-overs tweaker, he has added variations to his craft and if the strips in this series assist spin, the 25-year-old could turn out to be useful.
Zubayr Hamza (Top-order batsman)
The right-handed top-order batsman of Pakistan parentage from Cape Town grew up idolising the stylish Hashim Amla, a totem for several Asian-origin cricketers in South Africa. But it was the doughty former middle-order batsman Ashwell Prince who shaped his career.
Hamza’s career was middling before Prince took over the Cape Cobras and the pair worked on tightening his technique, especially outside the off-stump, and the mental aspect. He thus morphed from a trigger-happy batsman to someone who can grit it out in the middle.
Before his Test debut against Pakistan early this year, Hamza described his batting thus: “At times free-flowing, but also willing to graft. Never looking the prettiest, but I take pride out of the innings where there’s a bit of struggle in them.”
The results were prolific, as he rattled out 1,828 first-class runs in 38 innings at an average of 55. He furnished a fine account of himself in South Africa’s A tour to India last year, when he scored a fine second-innings 63 in Bangalore and a breezy 93 in Alur in the next match, against a quality attack that comprised Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal. Like Prince and Amla, Hamza’s considered a composed player of spin bowling. He showed that again on his Test debut against Pakistan, with a strokeful 41 off 68 balls. As impressive as he’s with the bat, he’s a terrific fielder too, especially in the slips.
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Anrich Nortje (Fast bowler)
After his first four seasons of domestic cricket, he seemed like an automatic choice to join Dale Steyn and Co. But a combination of injuries, inconsistency and the rise of Kagiso Rabada saw him chucked into the periphery before he made a terrific comeback in 2017-18 season. He regained his explosive pace and sharpness, and added more variations.
He returned deadlier next season, snaring 24 wickets at 21.04. A bowler with a mean streak – he was likened to a right-handed Brett Schutlz- and is seldom shy of unleashing a bouncer barrage at batsmen, even on sluggish surfaces.
He has Schultz’s intimidating presence also, with a strapping physique and pounding action. Like him, he has the propensity to pick injuries too – he once jokingly said that he’d spent more time rehabilitating than with his family in his whole life.
And injuries have had a weird sense of timing as well – Kolkata Knight Riders had picked him last year but Nortje had to miss the event because of an ankle injury. He was fit in time for the World Cup, but fractured his arm.
Among his admirers is Amla, whom he made to feel his age in a thorough working over a few seasons ago in the Mzanzi Super League T20 tournament. Since then, whenever Amla was in Durban, he would call him over to have a hit in the nets.