Yet another Indian-origin cricketer has conquered the colour barrier to break into cricket’s biggest league – Test cricket.
Keshav Maharaj, whose father Athmanand, kept wickets for Natal during the horror days of apartheid, is South Africa’s latest international debutant. The 26-year-old Durban left-arm spinner made his Test debut at the WACA, Perth on Thursday.
It was quite a baptism by fire for Keshav Maharaj, who began his life as a seamer and batsman in the Bakers Mini-Cricket programme, a developmental scheme for primary school kids.
Batting first in Perth on Thursday, South Africa were rocked by Mitchell Starc’s pace and had lost half their side for 81 but it was Keshav’s Maharaj-like cameo – he scored 16 off 19 balls with a four and a six coming in at No. 9 – that helped the Proteas end on a respectable 242 all out.
Keshav Maharaj is a product of South Africa’s socio-political system. He is the by-product of Cricket South Africa’s increasing endeavour to strike a balance between black and white.
Dad Athmanand could not break into the big league due to the colour of his skin. Keshav Maharaj has now fulfilled a dream.
Sport was in the family DNA. Athmanand was into sports administration after his playing days and had the means to host a clutch of Indian players when they toured in 1992 for the Friendship tour.
Meeting the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Mohammed Azharuddin, Kiran More et al was enough to fire Keshav’s cricketing dreams. The switch to spin turned his cricketing fortunes for the better.
No one happier than Athmanand. His experience to stand up to the wickets gave great insights to son Keshav, who quickly turned to a wicket-taking bowler. Keshav soon became a star in Shaun Pollock’s alma mater, Northwood School.
Apart from bowling left-arm spin, Keshav Maharaj loved to eat. His weight and fitness probably cost him an Under-19 World Cup berth in 2008. Athmanand’s support helped Keshav keep his focus on cricket.
In 2013, Keshav went to play the Sussex Premier League. Far away from home comforts, he returned fitter and hungrier. His fondnesses for cooking saw him writing a food blog and speak on local radio channels.
A series of good performances helped Keshav make the national selectors take notice. In the 2014-15 season, his left-arm spin fetched him 36 first class wickets. Last season, he was seventh best with 36 wickets again. A career-best 13-wicket haul for Dolphins helped him win a Test berth.
“He was surprised, but it is also a very well-deserved call-up,” said Dolphins teammate Imraan Khan to ESPNCricinfo.
“Over the last few seasons what he has really worked on is consistency in length and that’s what he is so good at.
“When we have needed a spinner to stop the game, he has done exactly that, but at the same time he has remained an attacking bowler and has always picked up wickets.”
On a pitch expected to favour the quicks, Keshav Maharaj was preferred over Imran Tahir and Simon Harmer in the playing XI. He went wicketless in two overs as Australia were 105 for no loss as stumps on Day 1.
Keshav Maharaj’s real cricket journey has just begun.