South Africa arrive in India with one of the best spin bowlers in the world right now, except he doesn't know he fits in that bracket. He just wants to keep doing well because it'll mean he gets to do what he loves and travel the world and maybe, hopefully, help young kids back home pick up spin bowling. Meet Keshav Maharaj
So, funny story. We were bowling in the nets the day before [the Test match], and I'm not sure who I was bowling to. Aleem came there, to get into his routine of seeing how the bowlers are, and the guy came down the wicket and exactly the same thing happened, and he was like, you know what, I'd give that out, it looked adjacent to me.
I'm sure he must have been thinking about that when you appealed for the Smith wicket.
I'm not sure if he thought about that. I did, definitely. I didn't expect him to give it out, but luckily he did.
Do you know that, since your debut, 11 spinners have taken 50 or more Test wickets, and you have the second-best strike rate among them, behind Rangana Herath?
Yeah? To be honest, I didn't know about that at all. I'm not very much a stats person. I'm trying to do the best I can, wherever I go in the world, whether it's international, domestic, club cricket or just some local Sunday league that you go play. I'm very fortunate and blessed to be able to do something I love and see other parts of the world, so if I can do well, I'll get many more opportunities to do that.
The reason I brought up the strike rate was this tendency, maybe, to look at this South African attack and see all these fast bowlers and think they're the strike bowlers, and see you as doing the holding role, but your strike rate says you're an attacking bowler too.
Yeah, but let's not forget, fact is that we have a wealth of fast bowlers and I'm fortunate enough to have such a world-class attack around me, and it allows me to settle in and things like that.
"I'm blessed to be able to do something I love and see other parts of the world, so if I can do well, I'll get many more opportunities to do that"
Do you feel that batsmen feel under pressure to come after you, because there's not really much they can do at the other end, sometimes?
Yeah, sometimes it works out that way. Conditions dictate how the batsmen also identify avenues to score, like you said, and I suppose when you have a world-class bowling attack, seam attack, you're going to have to target someone, and that's an opportunity for me to get wickets.
When do you know that you're bowling well? What are the signs you look for?
It's just the feel for me, I think. If I'm not bowling a cut ball or anything, then I know I'm in my rhythm and things are going okay, but as a spinner, I know it's just a feel thing. You'll have days when you're bowling well and it just doesn't go your way in terms of outcomes, but I judge myself basically on the fact that I must not bowl a cut ball during my spell. If I do that, I know how well [I've bowled], regardless of what it says in terms of figures.
In your lifetime, South Africa hasn't really had a spin-bowling culture. There have only been three other spinners since readmission who've got 100 Test wickets, and you're on 94 now. How significant is that milestone?
Yeah, obviously it's a big accolade. I mean, looking back three years ago, I wouldn't be able to say that I thought about being in the position that I am today, in terms of how far I've come along. But yeah, coming from a country of fast bowlers, it is difficult, but I think when you persevere with something you love, you will go places. It's not always the easiest road. You may only get it once, you may get it a hundred times, but you know, you've still got that chance to do something. I'd like to think that, if I can have a successful career in international cricket, it does pave the way for the younger spinners in terms of opportunity coming through.
You've played two Tests in the subcontinent so far, in Sri Lanka. You went wicketless on the first day of that tour, but you came back after that, and picked up that nine-for in the second Test. What were the things you learned about bowling in the subcontinent, on that tour?
I fell sick, so I couldn't play the warm-up game, so obviously I had to feel my way into subcontinent conditions, that's why the first innings was… it felt weird for me, but, you know, people say [on the subcontinent, it's about your] pace and things like that, but I also think it's about your consistency, your lines and lengths. The best in the world, your Ashwins, your Jadejas, your Lyons - they're all just consistent bowlers. Yes, they have subtle variations, some of them have more, but I think it's just the consistency and ability to just sort of test the batsmen's patience and things like that. They're also very clever as to how they want to bowl, but if you're consistent, you can bowl any way you want and know you're going to get someone out.
"At least 40 percent of my wickets, probably, are dictated by the way Faf's read the game, on the field"
Before coming to India in 2016-17, Nathan Lyon and Steve O'Keefe did quite a bit of work on how they spun the ball on Indian pitches. Where they'd bowl with more overspin back home, here they were trying to mix it up with sidespin. Is that something you've worked on too?
Yeah, everyone who comes here says that you need to work on your sidespin and stuff, it's a very, sort of unnatural thing for me to do because I'm more overspin, but I've been trying to play around with the SG ball to find where you can get some assistance off the wicket when it is not turning, you know, that sort of thing.
What's it like, as a spin bowler, to have Faf du Plessis as your captain?
I think he's very encouraging. He's a captain who lets you dictate what you want, and then he comes in, rather than telling you what to do, and then you give your opinion. Also the way he reads the game, his ability to read the game, is phenomenal. At least 40 percent of my wickets, probably, are dictated by the way he's read the game, on the field.
Could you give some examples of that?
One that stands out is in England, we were playing the second Test in Nottingham. Moeen was batting, and he kept sort of trying to sweep me and sweep me, and then we kept moving, moving (the fielders), and Faf said, you know what? Have the guy at catching square leg, let him try and fine sweep, and literally we had the guy, not even the next ball, tried to fine sweep and it went straight to short square leg.
Another one was at Colombo [the nine-for Test]. Dilruwan Perera was batting, and it wasn't probably my best delivery, but Faf says, you know what, if he does sweep, it's not going to go the whole way, and he sweeps up, so we put the man halfway [back], and Ngidi caught it at backward square leg.