By Graham Hardcastle, Paul Dyson and Jonathan Doidge
Duanne Olivier could hardly have given compatriot Keshav Maharaj higher praise as his prepares to make his final appearance of the summer for Yorkshire.
Overseas left-arm spinner Maharaj has taken 28 wickets in four Specsavers County Championship appearances since the end of June.
He will play for the fifth time against Somerset at Taunton, starting on Tuesday (10.30am), a clash which Yorkshire go into 37 points behind leaders Essex with three games remaining and 35 behind Somerset in second.
“Kesh is a phenomenal bowler,” said Olivier. “I’ve played Test cricket with him and here (at Yorkshire) and watched him a lot as well. I think he’s probably the best Test spinner South Africa have ever produced.
“He’s so good. He hardly gives you a bad ball. Even if it doesn’t turn, he finds ways to get wickets.
“He knows his game so well.
“It’s been so good to have him here with us.
“Against Somerset last time out, when they were top of the log, he basically won the game for us with 11 wickets in the match. Hopefully he can do it against them again.”
Maharaj is leaving to take part in a Test series in India.
Yorkshire have spoken to the 29-year-old about returning to Emerald Headingley next season, although it is not proving to be straightforward due to international commitments and the fact he is also getting married.
“It would be lovely to have him back,” added Olivier.
Maharaj is currently South Africa’s fifth most successful spinner with 94 from 25 Tests. Hugh Tayfield leads the with way with 170 from 37 Tests, Paul Adams has 134 from 45 appearances, Paul Harris 103 from 37 and Nick Boje 100 from 43.
So Maharaj certainly matches up.
Maharaj took seven wickets in the first innings and three in the second as Yorkshire beat Somerset by an innings at Headingley in July.
And it bodes well that on his last appearance at Taunton, for Lancashire last year, he also took 11 wickets, including a second-innings seven-for as the visitors secured a tie by bowling Somerset out for 77.
Maharaj recalled: “You don’t often hear about ties happening in four-day cricket, but it was one of the most exciting games I’ve ever been involved in,” said Maharaj.
“It’s definitely one for the memory bank.
“We knew the pitch was turning excessively, and there were two scores below 100 in the match.
“We felt anything was possible in that second innings. Once the first wicket fell, it all happened really quickly.
“We don’t know what the pitch has in store for us this time, but we’ll be prepared for anything. Everywhere I bowl, I relish the prospect.”
Yorkshire may be outsiders to win the title heading into the final three rounds, but Maharaj is confident they have what it takes to win Division One whether it is now or next year having been a part of three wins in his four appearances.
“There’s a lot of youth mixed with experience in that dressing room, and everybody is putting their hands up at certain times,” he added.
“Those are definitely signs of a Championship-winning side. That is good news for the future.”
Somerset will hand a debut to Indian opening batsman Murali Vijay, who has signed for the final three games of 2019 as an overseas replacement for Pakistani Azhar Ali.
They will also field off-spinner Dom Bess, who played Championship and T20 cricket during a mid-season loan spell with Yorkshire and was replaced in the Championship team by Maharaj.