Gibson ‘not sold’ on two spinners

SA coach will make decision on extra slow poisoner after studying pitch in Sri Lanka

Proteas head coach Ottis Gibson
Proteas head coach Ottis Gibson
Image: Aubrey Kgakatsi/BackpagePix

Conventional wisdom says two spinners are a good idea in an XI playing in the sub-continent‚ but Ottis Gibson is not buying that ahead of the first Test in Galle on Thursday.

And if the conditions demand an additional slow poisoner, a batsman and not a fast bowler will make way for him.

Gibson’s logic is rooted in the equal and opposite effect of Asian players growing up on pitches that offer more turn than seam movement – their batsmen know how to deal with the turning ball.

“Most teams‚ when they come to the sub-continent‚ play an extra spinner‚” Gibson said in Colombo on Sunday. “And then you see the way that the sub-continent players play spin.”

So the good sense of studying the pitch will prevail.

“We will try and pick the best bowler for the conditions we have‚” Gibson said.

“So if the wicket looks like it’s going to spin we will try and get another spinner into the attack.

“But if it looks like it’s going to be a good pitch and we feel like having the extra pace is going to make a difference to the Sri Lankans‚ then we’ll consider that option.”

Asked how the South Africans would fit an additional spinner into their side‚ Gibson said: “Our fast bowling has been the bedrock of our success for a long time. I’m pretty sure we’ll continue with three fast bowlers.”

And‚ he did not have to say‚ make do with one less batsman. History is on Gibson’s side. In the dozen Tests South Africa have played in Sri Lanka‚ only in four of them have they picked two specialist spinners.

Left-armer Clive Eksteen and off-spinner Pat Symcox featured in the inaugural Test between the teams‚ at Moratuwa in August 1993‚ and took none of the 16 Lankan wickets that fell.

Left-armer Nicky Boje and left-arm wrist spinner Paul Adams played in all three matches in Sri Lanka in July and August 2000. They claimed 14 of the 44 wickets that went down – not quite a third.

Fast bowler Brett Schultz’s haul of 20 wickets in that 1993 series is the stand-out performance by a South Africa bowler of any sort in Sri Lanka.

Boje remains their most successful bowler there, with 25 wickets in seven Tests‚ but they came at the high price of 43.80 apiece.

Next on the list is fast bowler Shaun Pollock‚ who took 22 in six matches at the significantly more respectable average of 25.13.

Left-arm wrist spinner Tabraiz Shamsi threw a spanner in those works in Colombo on Saturday by taking 5/45 in a tour match. Keshav Maharaj‚ the left-armer who is SA’s firstchoice spinner‚ also played but did not bowl, officially because he was ill‚ but you have to wonder whether he was kept out of the mix to keep Sri Lankan eyes off what he can do.

All four of the quicks in the squad – Vernon Philander‚ Dale Steyn‚ Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi – went through their gears‚ but only Ngidi took a wicket.

Welcome to the hard work of trying to bowl fast on the sub-continent. Gibson said: “Vernon and Dale have played here before so it was new for Lungi and Rabada.

“It was good for them to see what it’s going to be like when the Test match starts.

“It’s not going to be a place like Joburg where they see the ball flying through to the keeper and the slips. It might bounce twice before it gets to the keeper.

“You have to suck it up and run in‚ hit the deck and still try to get wickets. It might still shock them but we’re letting them know early what to expect.

“Lungi’s pace in his three spells was around the same‚ and that’s a really good sign.”

As for Steyn‚ who needs three wickets to surpass Pollock as SA’s all-time leading wicket-taker: “He looked a little bit rusty but we’re talking about one of the best fast bowlers of the modern generation. He knows what he needs to do to get himself up for a Test match,” Gibson said.

“He’ll be good to go.”