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It only took one ball for Dane Piedt to make his name as a Test bowler and early signs are good for South Africa's latest spin pretender
Firdose Moonda in Harare
August 9, 2014
There was flight on it, the elegant flight of an eagle, not the urgent flapping of some of its lesser cousins. There was turn on it, the sharp swerve of a hairpin bend, not the awkward angles negotiated at a stop sign by a vehicle with a stuttering engine. And it was laced with deception, the kind any good delivery has.
What happened next has only been experienced by 18 bowlers, of which only one was a South African, before Dane Piedt. The batsman Mark Vermeulen - who has not played a Test in a decade and was relying on memory as much as current form - defaulted to his strength of playing off the back foot, the ball thudded into his pad, keeping a little low, and the umpire raised his finger to give Piedt a wicket with his first ball in Test cricket.
Although the South Africans were noticeably more restrained in celebration than they have been in the past, Piedt could not contain himself. For a moment he threatened to impersonate another South Africa spinner Imran Tahir, and took off in the direction of the change room but he was hauled back swiftly. Luckily for South Africa, there was not too much else about Piedt that mirrored the man he replaced in the Test XI, which they will regard as a healthy indicator of their future plans.
Tahir was the only member of the side who did duty against Sri Lanka who was benched for this game. His exclusion backed up Hashim Amla's earlier statement that South Africa could re-examine the "role of the spinner" in this match. They needed to do that because, despite his promise, Tahir's returns were inadequate. Not only did he struggle to take wickets, but he lacked control, which weakened South Africa's attack overall. Piedt came with a reputation for being able to provide both.
In just one season as a fully fledged franchise cricketer - he has played in other domestic competitions and been a fringe member of the Cobras since 2009 - Piedt topped the first-class wicket-taking charts. He claimed 45 wickets at 19.93, including four five-fors and a hat-trick, but he also conceded only 2.50 runs to the over. That number is probably what gave him the nod over Simon Harmer, who was second on the wicket list and has been a consistent performer for the last few summers but more expensive.
'Tried to make statement first ball' - Piedt
His ability to switch between containing and attacking approaches demonstrated not just skill but maturity and a mind which reads match situations. He also offered variety, with the doosra, carom ball and top-spinner in his arsenal, as well as aptitude with the bat. Naturally he was not expected to show all of that on Test debut but, so far, he has given glimpses that he may have what it takes to launch a successful international career.
Piedt turns the ball and he turns it properly. He is also not afraid to give it air and he uses his variations with discretion. He made mistakes like any rookie - offered the odd full toss, some which were a touch too short and others a touch too wide - but both he and his captain, showed guile and guise.
Because there was substantial turn on offer, they tried a change in angle to break through the defences of Hamilton Masakadza, bowling around the wicket to him after lunch. With the fifth ball of the new approach, Piedt was rewarded. His peach of an offspinner turned enough to sneak through the gate. Two balls later Amla's field placings were proved astute when Regis Chakabva flicked a full delivery straight to short midwicket. Brendon Taylor, caught slogging on 93, completed Piedt's haul.
That Piedt carried most of the South Africa load and enjoyed the biggest return of the day, equal with Dale Steyn, was helped by him finding conditions which suited him. Tahir had to wait 12 matches before finding the same. The pitch was drier than expected, probably best described by Zimbabwe's former class clown, left-arm spinner Ray Price, who owns the sports shop at Harare Sports Club and inspected the surface late on Friday afternoon. "It's rough as a badger's bottom," he said. "It will turn square from the first morning."
Price's mischievous streak often leads to exaggeration, so his jibe only elicited rolling of eyes then and a question from his audience. "So are you thinking of making a comeback then?" It was Price's turn to laugh for once. But it ended up being a lot more accurate than expected and Piedt was the one laughing at the end of the day. If the surface continues in this way, Piedt may even get the last laugh in the match and then later in the South African summer, when they decide which spinner to use against West Indies and beyond.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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