Keshav Maharaj has put himself forward as a wildcard candidate to take over as South Africa’s Test captain. The position remains unfilled following Faf du Plessis stepping down in February, even though South Africa have appointed Quinton de Kock as their white-ball captain.
Maharaj has not been among those named as likely future Test leaders – a status reserved for Temba Bavuma, Aiden Markram and Dean Elgar – but he wants the captaincy, and not just in red-ball cricket.
“I really want to captain the Proteas. It’s been my dream. Not many people know that, but those close to me know that I do want to captain the South African team across all three formats,” Maharaj said. “And I want to raise the World Cup trophy in my hand as the leader of the side.
“Apart from wanting to play for the Proteas as a childhood dream, captaining the team to a World Cup-winning campaign would be everything I have ever dreamed of and my life would be fulfilled from a cricketing perspective.”
While Maharaj’s goals may seem ambitious to those who follow South African cricket, he has previous experience on which to make his case. Maharaj led his franchise, the Dolphins, in last season’s one-day cup, where they were declared winners after the competition was suspended because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Dolphins finished top of the points’ table with seven victories from 10 matches. Maharaj was their leading wicket-taker and fourth-highest overall, numbers that earned him an ODI recall against Australia after an absence from the team for 18 months.
Maharaj had only played four ODIs before that, two in England in 2017 and two against Sri Lanka in 2018, and was considered to be behind Imran Tahir and Tabraiz Shamsi in the national pecking order. But with Tahir’s ODI retirement after the 2019 World Cup and South Africa open to playing XIs with more than one spinner, Maharaj knew he could establish a regular place and the team management even gave him a blueprint for how to do it. “I got told that apart from bowling, you need to work on your batting.”
Though he only batted five times in the tournament, Maharaj finished with the Dolphins’ second-highest average, and scored his maiden List A half-century, which helped his team to a match-winning total in a low-scoring game against the Cobras.
That knock came after Maharaj scored two Test fifties, in Pune against India and in Port Elizabeth against England, innings that showed why he had initially been spoken about as someone with all-round potential. “I have a lot more ability than the numbers I have been showing,” he said.
Maharaj had two first-class hundreds and seven fifties to his name when he made his Test debut in 2016, but his early international displays, which often involved wild swings, did not indicate he could be considered an allrounder. However, he showed a more measured approach last summer, and now wants to work his way up the Test line-up. “In India, I got a taste of what it’s like to score an international fifty. I wanted to really kick on but it was a bit unfortunate to get out,” he said. “I really want to take my batting seriously and move to a bowling allrounder or a fully-fledged allrounder so I can contribute evenly. I know I am capable of scoring bigger runs. My biggest problem was getting the first fifty so I now I want to try and kick o from that and get big hundreds and match-winning hundreds.”
Maharaj hopes that if he scores runs in the longest format, it may also help him get into the international scene in the shortest one; he has not yet been capped in T20Is. “I do want to break into the T20 format but I know I have to bide my time in ODI cricket and score some big runs in Test cricket to improve my chances of selection,” he said.
Until then, he is happy to put in the hard work, under de Kock, who has changed the way South Africa approach their limited-overs cricket. “It’s a different dynamic to when I first debuted in terms of the aggression. It’s exciting,” Maharaj said. “You’ve got a younger leader and with youth comes a lot of flair.”
Maharaj has spent the lockdown working on developing flair of his own, as he looks to become a multi-format international regular. He will have more time to do that over the next few months after his overseas deal with Yorkshire was canceled as the counties look for ways to cut costs in the face of Covid-19. That means the earliest Maharaj will play is if South Africa’s July-August tour to West Indies goes ahead, a tour they will undertake with a new Test captain. Whether that is Maharaj remains to be seen.
In the meanwhile, he also has a wedding to reschedule. Maharaj and his fiancee Lerisha were due to tie the knot last Saturday but had to postpone their big day with the ban on social gatherings still in place. Even though he is disappointed not to have been able to say his “I dos”, Maharaj can see the silver lining. “It was tough accepting [the postponement] but it gives us some extra time to make the wedding even more perfect than what it was going to be.”