South Africa

News24.com | Proteas: Warne’s distant missive to only add to Windies’ woes?

He was referring to a parallel, blue-chip Test match on the go thousands of kilometres away, but a message from leg-spin legend Shane Warne potentially only deepens the pickle West Indies find themselves in during the second contest with a knife-twisting South Africa in St Lucia.

On the Twitter forum, Warne had lamented on Saturday the decision by New Zealand, participants in the ICC World Test Championship final against India at Southampton, to enter the showpiece without the services of a specialist spinner in conditions which – at least initially – looked tailor-made for the faster bowlers.

“If it seams it will (later) spin,” he had opined … and this coming from the holder of 145 Test caps, sporting 708 scalps in the format.

His words possibly contain relevance, however, to the not dissimilar pitch scenario in the faraway Caribbean, where the host nation truly have their backs to the wall in the fight to avoid a 2-0 series whitewash at the hands of the Proteas.

Dean Elgar’s outfit took a big step toward ensuring that will occur by routing West Indies for 149 in their first innings on day two of the decisive second Test – exactly half the runs the tourists had earlier amassed themselves.

How much will be enough in their second turn at the crease to put the contest out of the hosts’ reach?

Considering that West Indies’ highest total in three series innings against SA’s spicy attack is 162 so far (second knock of the first Test at the same Daren Sammy National Stadium), a speedy answer from observers might be “not much at all”.

But it will be a comfort to the Proteas, on a surface still with its challenges for batting, that anything northward of 150 in that second dig would have the Caribbean side chasing 300 or more, the biggest tally of the match – if achieved – in the very unlikely setting of the fourth innings.

The prospect that South Africa will only establish a further stranglehold on Sunday’s middle day in the tussle is enhanced by at least one factor: West Indies, like the Black Caps at England’s Rose Bowl, entered this Test without a specialist master of the turning trade.

And whereas they “benched” the considerable physical figure of off-spinner Rahkeem Cornwall, who might have wished for some influence in the second half of this clash, the Proteas are only pepped up further in their minds for the “kill” mission by knowledge that their own Keshav Maharaj is very much part of their ongoing plans here.

The left-arm spinner, as had happened in timely little portions of the first encounter, has already chipped in extremely usefully despite South Africa’s frontline pace trio dominating proceedings against the fallible Windies’ batting line-up -- and seam-bowling all-rounder Wiaan Mulder hearteningly mowing down the first-knock tail in a spectacular short burst of three for one in four overs.

Looking hungry and focussed, though, Maharaj’s subtle use of flight and his angle- and pace-changes – coupled with the aid of some noticeable bounce for him – meant he was also in sound business in the wickets orgy.

The seasoned 31-year-old bowled more overs (18) than any of the quicker men, despite their collective potency, in the first innings … and might have picked up more scalps than he did, though his snaring of middle-order players Kyle Mayers and Jermaine Blackwood – the latter top scorer with 49 – considerably helped the SA task in engineering the procession of dismissals.

In the relatively slim chance that West Indies make a far better fist of dealing with the Proteas’ pace arsenal when they eventually bat again in search of series-squaring victory, the visitors will be increasingly optimistic that Maharaj comes into his own once more with his key varietal fare.

This ground is not without recent history indicating that spinners can be productive, especially toward the back end of Tests.

When England won at the ground in February 2019, Moeen Ali picked up seven wickets in the match – 4/36 and 3/99.

The last time West Indies themselves won a Test at the venue, albeit back in 2014, the tall figure of left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn, a combative fellow who had previously got just a little under South African skins, bagged 5/72 in Bangladesh’s second innings.

So the Proteas seemingly have all the tools necessary to complete this job …

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