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Maharaj hopes for spin lessons from Herath

While most of the South African squad will try to exploit Sri Lanka's weaknesses in the upcoming three-Test series, at least one of them will be concentrating on the opposition's biggest strength. Left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj is keen to learn as much as he can from his counterpart, Rangana Herath, a man he lists among his heroes.

"I have always looked up to him. He is one of the left-arm spinners along with Daniel Vettori that you will try and model yourself on, in terms of variations," Maharaj, who is yet to meet Herath, said. "I am looking forward to rubbing shoulders with him and hopefully learning from him. I am still new to the international scene and he has been around for a while so hopefully he can impart some of his knowledge and skill onto me."

The two are yet to meet, but Herath has already cast his eye over Maharaj and the early verdict is positive. "I have only seen him play against Australia, but from what I've seen, he's a very accurate bowler," Herath said. "He's got all the essentials - with his accuracy, his line and his lengths. If he improves his variations he'll go far."

For now, Maharaj has been in consultation with another senior, Paul Harris, who he contacted ahead of his maiden series in Australia. Back then, Harris spoke to Maharaj about "dealing with (foreign) conditions". This time, Harris' advice is about how to play at home and the primary focus is on patience. I've just got to hit my length for as long as I can," Maharaj said.

That kind of strategy suggests South Africa may have gone back to seeing their spinner as being a container rather than a wicket-taker, although conditions at St George's Park could demand otherwise. It is likely to be the slowest and driest of the three surfaces and may bring Maharaj into the game a little more.

He can't be too sure though, because his only long-form experience at this ground came eight years ago in a provincial three-day match for Kwa-Zulu Natal. Maharaj took thee wickets in each innings in the drawn fixture and admitted that he doesn't really know what to expect from a surface that will be as foreign to him as the ones in Australia were.

In Perth, particularly, he showed he could adapt easily and that there is more to him than just his bowling. Maharaj is a handy batsmen and hopes he can use this series to show his value to the side in other disciplines. "In my earlier days I took my batting for granted. I always knew I could bat but I was just a hit-and-run type of player. I want to become a complete allrounder," he said. "It helps you get selected a lot easier. I've taken my batting quite seriously in the last year or two and I'm looking forward to contributing with some runs."

Maharaj has identified the correct gap to try and take. South Africa are still searching for someone who can play a consistent two-in-one role. Vernon Philander has emerged as one option but South Africa won't complain about having another. If Maharaj can do that, he may make the spin spot his own.

Already, the selectors have showed they are thinking along those lines. Maharaj is the only spinner in the squad for the first two Tests, having edged out Tabraiz Shamsi, who he continues to share a close relationship with. "We are team-mates at the end of the day, whether he plays or I play, we will be supporting each other," Maharaj said. "We played a lot of cricket together at the Dolphins and we always want each other to do well."

Shamsi will likely come into contention in special circumstances, such as as the day-night Test where he made his debut when South Africa want to include more than one spinner. But Maharaj is a long-term option and this will be his chance to show it. Whatever he learns from Herath will no doubt be a bonus.

"I'd like to play a home series first before I know my future in terms of cementing my place," he said. "I will take it one ball at a time and one game at a time. It's nice to have that backing from the selectors. I've got to grab the opportunity with both hands."