Leadership key to Maharaj revival

Leadership key to Maharaj revival

Proteas spinner Keshav Maharaj believes that added leadership responsibility has helped improve his game, saying it was one of the big reasons for his return to the One-Day International set-up this past season.

The 30-year-old turned out in the full summer series against Australia, his first appearances for South Africa in white-ball cricket since a tour to Sri Lanka back in 2018.

The country’s No. 1 Test spinner did well by helping his team return a 3-0 sweep, with tidy figures in all three matches. He was subsequently picked by the national selectors for the ODI tour to India that ended early due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Maharaj made his impression over the course of the current season with his franchise, the Hollywoodbets Dolphins, whom he captained to the Momentum One-Day Cup title.

Despite only playing seven out of the 10 games, he finished with the best average in the competition – 14.68 – and ended as the fourth-highest wicket-taker with 16 wickets. The left-arm spinner also averaged over 50 in four innings with the bat.

“I wouldn’t say my approach has been too different, I would say the added responsibility of captaincy has helped,” he said. “I always wanted to bail the team out of situations, win the game with the bat at the end or give the team a chance to win, so that has helped me.”

Maharaj played the first of his seven ODI’s back in 2017 against England and he says things have changed since then, especially in terms of the Proteas’ approach.

“Making my debut in 2017 against England I had to work out and develop my plan of how I was going to go about ODI cricket since my Test debut,” he reflected. “The experience for me was very good being drafted back into the ODI side.

“I remember I was sat down and asked what I needed to do to get back into the ODI side and I got told that apart from the bowling, I also needed to work on my batting.

“I went back to domestic cricket, I was fortunate enough to have been made captain of the team, which helped me gain some responsibility on my shoulders. I managed to get some scores with the bat.

“It obviously is a different dynamic to when I first debuted. I think the aggression is different, the way we go about games has changed, so obviously it is exciting.

“You have a younger leader (Quinton de Kock) who with youth brings in a lot of flair, so that’s the one aspect that’s changed a lot.”

Maharaj remains South Africa’s premier Test spinner, with his 16 wickets in five matches this past season, taking his tally to 110 in 30 matches.

His success in the longer format led to a general opinion that he was only suited for red-ball cricket.

“That (opinion) was extremely frustrating for me because I really felt as though as I was branded at the start of my career as a white-ball spinner and then things changed,” Maharaj bemoaned. “I went back to domestic cricket and I really worked as hard as I could in terms of the white-ball aspect and then luckily enough I was handed another opportunity to play white-ball cricket again.”

The Durban-born star is now hoping to remain in the limited-over mix next season.

Maharaj, who was due to marry this month but has had to postpone his wedding due to COVID-19, outlined some of his targets for 2020/21.

“I still do want to break into the T20 set-up, but I know that I first have to bide my time in the ODI side and more so in the Test side where I do need to score more runs,” he concluded. “That will help my chances of selection. I also want to do better than last season, then I know that I am on the right track. If I can help the team reach the No. 1 ranking that’s the big target across all formats.”