Johan Botha was a medium-fast bowler but South Africa coach Mickey Arthur, after observing him at nets, advised him to switch to off spin. Today, he is the country’s top off-spinner.
South Africa, known for fast bowlers, is now a grooming ground for spinners. The pitches for IPL II definitely have something in it for slow bowlers and the number of tweakers in the province teams would surprise the casual follower of cricket here.
The genesis of this newfound love for spin has its origin in Indian spinners, Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble. There is a strong feeling that the 2011 World Cup — to be hosted by India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh — could see the South African spinners holding their own in the sub-continent
Some five-six years back, Cricket South Africa officials noticed that Harbhajan and Kumble were unplayable. Subsequently, it decided to emphasise more on spin India was asked to help.
Last season, players from the Johannesburg-based High Performance Centre visited India’s National Cricket Centre to learn the tricks of the trade. Groundsmen too have visited India to learn preparing spin-friendly wickets.
“Our focus is on the 2011 World Cup. That’s the reason why we are preparing spin-friendly wickets. We want to groom some good spinners on those pitches so that it opens up more avenues for us in the World Cup,” Jonty Rhodes said.
Raymond Booi, who heads the provincial High Performance Centres, said: “Some five years back, it was decided we couldn’t do without spinners. We introduced the programme at the school level and it was made mandatory that spinners would bowl 17 of the 50 overs at U-16 level.
“Even if there was just one spinner in the team, he was made to bowl all of the 17 overs. We also made it mandatory for U-19 teams to have two spinners. Paul Harris, JP Duminy, Johan Botha and Roelof van der Merwe are products of this programme.
Rhodes said: “Propagating spin will serve two purposes — one the country will get a good crop of spinners and second, the batsmen will get used to spin at a very young age.”
Reminiscing about his time in the national team, Rhodes said: “Till 1992, when we used to play three-day first-class matches almost all the teams had a battery of pace bowlers. Now, a lot of things have changed.”
You can call it a new spin in South Africa’s tale!