South African returns as Yorkshire CCC plug spin department gaps

YORKSHIRE have re-signed the South African left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj to kick-start their efforts to win next year’s County Championship.

Returning: Keshav Maharaj. Picture: Alex Davidson/Getty Images

Maharaj has joined for the first two games at home to promoted Gloucestershire on April 12 and against champions Essex at Chelmsford the following week.

The 29-year-old made a major impact last season, taking 38 wickets in five matches at an average of 18.92, in addition to contributing useful and often spectacularly explosive lower-order runs.

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Yorkshire say that they have agreed a deal with another overseas spinner to take over from Maharaj for the bulk of the 14-match programme with an announcement expected soon.

Martyn Moxon, the Yorkshire director of cricket, said: “We’ve been able to persuade Kesh to come and play in the first couple of games which will, hopefully, get us off to a good start.

“He won matches for us this year, he was fantastic on the pitch for us but also off the field with the way he spoke to our players.

“He was very willing to share experiences and advice so he was the perfect overseas player.

“We look forward to welcoming him back, albeit for a short period of time this coming season.”

Maharaj, who has made 31 appearances for South Africa and is closing in on 500 first-class wickets, is unavailable thereafter as he is getting married, while South Africa have a tour to the West Indies slap in the middle of the English season.

The Durban-born player has been named in South Africa’s 17-man squad for the first of the four-match Test series against England that starts in Centurion on Boxing Day, having reached the proud milestone of 100 Test wickets on the recent tour to India.

Maharaj is thrilled to be returning to Emerald Headingley, saying: “I have a good relationship with the players and staff and really enjoyed my time this year.

“I’m very grateful to be given the opportunity to come back and play for Yorkshire again.

“I surprised myself with the numbers that I put up with ball and bat (last season), so I’m just happy to have been able to contribute in the way I did.

“Hopefully, in the two games that I have signed for, I can make a similar impact and help start the season well.”

Yorkshire’s move for Maharaj – as well as their desire for overseas spin bowling cover throughout the season – highlights one of the most pressing issues concerning their cricket.

Although they have several spin bowlers on their staff – Josh Poysden, James Logan, Jack Shutt and so on – they consider such players to be work-in-progress with much potential going forward.

With uncertainty continuing to surround the red-ball future of Adil Rashid, the England spinner who has lost his Test place, Yorkshire are effectively having to rebuild in that area and believe that the likes of Poysden, Logan and Shutt need time to develop.

Ideally, they also want spinners/bowlers who can bat to help guard against an otherwise long tail, with the No 8 position not perceived as the ideal slot for such as captain Steve Patterson and fellow pace men Ben Coad and Duanne Olivier.

“Our biggest challenge at the minute with our own spinners is the balance of the team,” added Moxon.

“Obviously, Kesh coming in, batting at eight and scoring useful runs at times helps us with the balance of the side.

“That’s our challenge going forward, looking at how we manage that with our own spinners. So, with next season in mind, we’ve got a short-term plan with regards to spin, but we need to keep the long-term in mind too and develop our own spinners as much as we can.”

Moxon continued: “As far as overseas players for the County Championship beyond the first two games of the season, we have a deal agreed (with another spinner). We just need the contract to be signed so, hopefully, that won’t be too long.”

Yorkshire, who finished fifth in last year’s First Division, are quietly confident that they can mount a much stronger challenge next season on the back of their winter player recruitment drive.

They have effectively completed their business early, having also re-signed the West Indies’ batsman/wicketkeeper Nicholas Pooran for Twenty20 and England batsman Dawid Malan on a four-year deal across the formats.

Yorkshire’s batting has been a problem for several years; even when they last won the Championship in 2015 they were overly-reliant on Jonny Bairstow, with much having lately rested on the shoulders of such as Gary Ballance and Adam Lyth with Bairstow away on international duty.

Malan gives the the top-order a much more solid, experienced look, while there are hopes that the likes of Olivier will provide greater cutting edge with the ball in his second season and that young batsmen such as Tom Kohler-Cadmore, Will Fraine, Harry Brook and Tom Loten will only go from strength to strength.

Kohler-Cadmore’s progress has been rewarded with an England Lions’ call-up for the white-ball matches in Australia in February.