South Africa news January 14, 2014

Slim pickings in South Africa spin search

South Africa's two senior spinners are both 34, and there is a lack of promising youngsters on the horizon
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All countries make do without something. Most of the islands of the Caribbean do not produce oil, India does not have a football team that is World Cup worthy (yet) and South Africa struggle for match-winning international spinners.

Currently, their choices lie between Robin Peterson and Imran Tahir, and both could do with some polishing. "They need to be a little bit more consistent," Paul Harris, the former South Africa left-arm spinner who retired from all forms of the game last season, told ESPNcricinfo.

"They both bowl a few too many bad balls. Robbie needs to work on line and length and hitting his areas all the time and Imran needs to learn to be patient. He also has to get his legspinner to turn so he doesn't have to rely on his googly as much."

Peterson is currently the man in possession and Harris thinks he will start against Australia. The three Tests will be played at Centurion, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, venues where Harris feels South Africa will need a specialist spinner, which rules out the possibility of an all-pace attack and Duminy to do the slower bowling duties. Harris would prefer it that way, anyway.

"JP can bowl but it's not fair to ask him to bowl teams out. He should be able to give you 10 or 12 overs a day but he has to focus on his batting at No. 6," Harris said. "That's his main job. He could average 50 in Test cricket for South Africa so he should focus on that."

At the same time, Harris would like the spinner in South Africa's side to concentrate foremost on holding up an end because of the prowess of the pacemen. "It's really important to bowl as few bad balls as you can," Harris said. But he knows that's not as simple as it sounds, because he had to do it himself. "It's about understanding that every time you go out there, you don't have to take five wickets. It can get frustrating but it's the job."

Nicky Boje, who played 43 Tests for South Africa between 2000 and 2006, agrees that it can be "tough to be the only spinner in the side," because of the sometimes thankless nature of the job but said the rewards can be worthwhile. "Sometimes a spinner only takes one wicket but if you check the context of it, it will usually be quite an important wicket," he said. "Like the wickets Robbie took against India in the Durban Test, those were crucial."

Peterson finished with four wickets in the match and even though, as Harris conceded "they came from bad shots," it's that kind of luck that a spinner sometimes rides. Peterson also scored an important 61 in that match which, Harris believes, will give him the edge over Tahir in the immediate term, especially in Jacques Kallis' absence.

But as far as the future goes, South Africa need are still searching for a spinner. Both Peterson and Tahir are 34 years old and there is a lack of promising youngsters on the horizon. Harris has a reason for the lack of spin talent. "I feel a bit sorry for guys who want to become spinners because the pitches usually don't suit them at all," Harris said. "I remember when I was at the Titans, at one stage we had wickets being specifically prepared for spinners so Imran and I could learn."

Harris and Tahir played together for the Titans under Richard Pybus but it's rare to see two spinners in a first-class game anymore, particularly last summer when first-class pitches were seamer-friendly. "The spinners don't bowl as much as the quicks. Last season, very few first-class matches went four days, so there wasn't much opportunity for them," Harris said. This season, CSA sought to change that with less spicy domestic surfaces, to add to their attempts to encourage spin development.

Last August, for example, Boje accompanied six spinners to a training camp in Bangalore. They were joined by six batsmen, who made the trip to develop their skills on slower, turning tracks. "It was really about learning the conditions," Boje said. "The guys were getting a lot of overs under their belt and bowling for between four and five hours a day. They don't do that in South Africa, so from an experience point of view, it was valuable."

All six of them have played some franchise cricket with one of them surging to the front of the queue as far as national selection is concerned. Warriors' offspinner Simon Harmer played in the unofficial Tests against Australia A and India A in the winter that passed. He bowled South Africa A to victory against their Australian counterparts in the second match, with an innings haul of 8 for 87.

Boje is heartened to see the progress Harmer has made and Harris believes he could be a prospect in the years to come. "I like the look of him but he needs to mature a bit more," he told ESPNcricinfo. "He doesn't bowl many bad balls, he gets a bit of rip and he also catches very well."

Harmer is currently second on the first-class wicket-taking chart. In the four matches played so far he has claimed 17 scalps at 37.47, and is three wickets behind Cobras' left-arm seamer Beuran Hendricks. Last season, he was the highest wicket-taking spinner and was picked to play for South Africa A. "I think he can do a holding and a wicket-taking role but it will take time," Harris said. "But South Africa have a bit of that."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Protears on January 17, 2014, 16:58 GMT

    To be quite frank there are no match winning spinners in the world at the moment, the premium is on containment right now. Take suitable conditions out the way where Tahir outbowled Ajmal in Dubai, Swann and Panasar outbowled Ashwin, Jadaja, Ohja in favorable conditions there really is no worth in spinners right now. Which is why Lyon looks useful and why we now would love Paul Harris.

    Robbie P has the job right now and his modus should be consistency, if he can do that then he doesn't need to take 10 wickets to look justifiable.

    The other issue is our culture is not conducive to spin so we don't produce much in that area, same as India don't produce high quality seamers.

  • dummy4fb on January 17, 2014, 15:37 GMT

    Robbie P will play against Australia. He took 4 wickets against India, all of them off bad balls, but the selectors will ignore that, and he will be picked for all 3 tests against Australia. Because Robbie P is playing, we have to select an allrounder in place of Kallis. This will be McLaren. So the batting order will be Duminy, McLaren and Robbie P at 6,7,8. These 3 guys all average 30 in test cricket. So at 4 wickets down, we will be in real trouble against Mitch Johnson.

  • Robster1 on January 16, 2014, 2:00 GMT

    How much would SA give now for a Paul Harris. In time Harmer may well be a contender, but for now the cupboard is not well stocked. For limited over cricket van der Merwe must be close to a recall - and he can bat. Petersen and Tahir are most inconsistent and in any case are not that far from retirement.

  • MariusRoodt on January 15, 2014, 14:25 GMT

    @Shaun Price Smit isn't the answer, he's taken two wickets in 3 Sunfoil Series matches this season. His average and SR are also high. He's possibly a good prospect in the future, but right now I think Peterson, Tahir, Harmer, and Leie are all better options.

  • lukiboy on January 15, 2014, 14:18 GMT

    I completely disagree with the statement that we have no promising spinners, Ediie Leie in particular and Subrayen, Harmer and Piedt are all young enough that with some proper coaching could be very successful. My biggest issue with South African spin bowling is that i have never head about a spin bowling clinic for our most promising talents, when i contently here about fast bowling clinics at the national academy. Why haven't we brought in a experienced international spinner who has been successful in all conditions, to mentor our young spin bowlers a couple weeks each season, first names that i can think of is Anil Kumble, Warne, Mustaq or even the newly retired Graeme Swann. We have never produced a world-class spinner so why South Africans like Henderson, entrusted with the job of South African spin coach

  • DeckChairand6pack on January 15, 2014, 13:58 GMT

    The Proteas have never had a problem taking 20 wickets. Our attack is devastating and the envy of world cricket. Clearly developing world class spin bowling talent is not something that has been a success in South African cricket. People may say we will come unstuck in the sub-continent or on pitches conducive to spin, and they may have a point. But still I would point to the fact that we have a good record in the sub continent, and moreover, our attack can take 20 wickets. I don't think we need to worry. Paul Harris was massively underrated btw.

  • duppa on January 15, 2014, 11:49 GMT

    What does Harris know - he wasn't even a spinner and we have the number 1 test side in the world. Spin - who cares. We have the devastation of Steyn, Morkel and Philander. Duminy is fine and can hold up an end and if Faf works on it they both can do it.

  • dummy4fb on January 15, 2014, 11:06 GMT

    There is no shortage of bowlers, fast medium & slow, just a shortage of quota players. Sorry to bring politics into this debate but as long as we continue to exclude/select players on colour rather than merit we will have shortages. how long Norman will quotas continue to be policy??. If we must wait until its 70% black, 15%,coloured 10% white 5% indian then we will never have a team on merit. Best players to take place of Kallis & Tahir are Dean Elgar & Daryn Smit. Elgar to bat at 7, Smit at 8. McLaren is not the answer, he does not impress as a bowler anymore & his batting is less productive than Smit. Both Elgar & Smit can bowl at least as clever as Tahir and they bring collectively a big PLUS to the batting. So my team for Port Elizabeth & Cape Town v Australia is Smith Petersen Amla Du Plessis Duminy De Villiers(W) Elgar Smit Philander Steyn Morkel

  • Mattothemacko on January 15, 2014, 9:51 GMT

    @The_Miz you obviously don't know much about cricket, HARMER turns the ball square, T20 on our wickets isn't about turning a ball, and this is a search for a test spinner! HARMER was the first cricketer in SA First class cricket history to end leading wicket taker in his rookie season! Go watch some first class cricket boet!

  • duncanmoo on January 15, 2014, 9:32 GMT

    The issue is SA spinners' exposure and experience. They learn their trade on seamer friendly pitches, so Eddie Leie with flat offspin may work locally but how would he perform on slow pitches (I am no expert)? Clearly however Leie and Phangiso are omissions from this article, there must be more.

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