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Keshav Maharaj's 'worst ball' gives him a hat-trick moment to savour

The left-armer hopes that his success can help forge a path for South Africa's spinners of the future

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Keshav Maharaj had a day to remember as he sealed South Africa's series win  •  RANDY BROOKS/AFP/Getty Images

Keshav Maharaj had a day to remember as he sealed South Africa's series win  •  RANDY BROOKS/AFP/Getty Images

Keshav Maharaj had an unorthodox start to the fourth and ultimately final day of the series against West Indies. He warmed up with a song, accompanied by his domestic team-mate Keegan Petersen. Amid giggles and a foam roller for a microphone, the pair crooned their intention to stand by each other. As it turned out, Petersen kept to his word in more ways than he might have imagined.
He was stationed at short leg when Jason Holder defended a Maharaj delivery, got an inside-edge and a chance popped up. Petersen held on to what Mark Boucher called a "nice, sharp catch," to put Maharaj on a hat-trick.
Since Geoff Griffin took South Africa's first hat-trick in a Test at Lord's 1960, there had been 110 chances for a bowler from this country to repeat the feat. Maharaj had the 111th opportunity. As far as cricket's number-mythology goes, it could not have worked out better.
Maharaj pitched what he hoped would be his magic delivery on leg, but it did not offer any turn. Joshua Da Silva awkwardly attempted to flick it away but edged to leg slip where Wiaan Mulder moved to his right and took a good one-handed catch as he tumbled over. Maharaj could barely believe it. In celebration, he tried a pitch dive before being swamped by Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi and then, the rest of his team-mates. The quality of the ball didn't matter, except maybe in hindsight.
"I probably could have bowled a much better ball than that, but full credit to Wiaan for plucking that catch," Maharaj said. "It was a superb reaction catch and whatever Wiaan wants to eat or drink tonight, it will probably be on me."
Whether anyone called "keg ball" on the hat-trick we may never know, but if Boucher had known the delivery Maharaj was going to bowl, he would not have been the one to offer to pick up the bar bill.
"I felt for Da Silva coming in. He wasn't expecting to come out and it was probably Kesh's worst ball of the lot," Boucher joked, before quickly turning to praise for his sole spinner. "Kesh has put so much hard work into his action and his skill work. He is bowling closer to the stumps and attacking the stumps a lot more. It's moments like these he will remember for the rest of his career. Coming in on the fourth day and picking up a five-for as a spinner is something you want to do, especially in the last innings. He will enjoy this one and take a lot of confidence going forward."
This was Maharaj's seventh-Test five-for and fourth outside of South Africa. It was also his third as part of an away series win after his 6 for 40 in Wellington in 2017 - the last time they won a series overseas - which followed a five-wicket bag in the previous Test in Dunedin. Although South Africa's victories are often remembered as being built on the back of their fast bowlers, Maharaj is changing the narrative and sees it as his role to forge the path for the spinners to come.
"It's hard being a spinner," he said. "Luckily the mindset has changed towards spin bowling in the country and if I can be a catalyst to make that better, then I am doing half my job. Apart from trying to put in performances, I think it's important to try to set an example to the younger spinners out there who eventually will play Test cricket that there definitely is a future for spin bowling in our country
"I didn't even know that the last Test series we won away from home was in 2017. This team wants to move in a different direction. This was the first obstacle we had to overcome and the boys will celebrate the series win."
Will they do it with any late-night karaoke? Maybe not, but don't rule it out in the lead-up to the next Test series.
"We're just having some fun. There are long days and hard days of Test cricket, so it's nice to have a vent before you go onto the field and keep the buzz going into the changeroom, but I don't think I am entering Idols anytime soon," Maharaj said. "Keegs and I play a lot of cricket together at home. We enjoy each other's company, talking nonsense and singing nonsense."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent