First Test, first ball, first wicket. That’s how Dane Piedt will remember Day 1 of the only Test between Zimbabwe and South Africa in Harare. As the only change to the side that beat Sri Lanka 0-1 in a series last month, there wasn’t much pressure on him to perform, but there was expectation.
He certainly lived up to that expectation and more. His first ball in Test cricket was flighted and turned, and the spinner himself admits that he tried to make a statement when he came on to bowl. But when one became two, he enjoyed it even more.
I tried to make a statement with my first delivery. I enjoyed my second dismissal more. It was the ideal offspinner's dismissal, through the gate and hit top of off stump. And it was around the wicket, too. I was trying to get the ball to straighten from there.
Having finished as the top wicket-taker in South Africa’s four-day domestic competition last year, Piedt’s rise to the top has been brisk. The 2013-14 season was his first season as a full franchise cricketer, and he repaid the faith of the selectors. He took 45 wickets at 19.93, including four five-fors and a hat-trick and kept things very tidy with, conceding just 2.50 runs to the over.
That hard work at the domestic level earned him a place in the squad for the series against Sri Lanka. He did not play there, though, as South Africa opted to persist with Imran Tahir, but his returns were dismal. Even on pitches that offered much return, Tahir managed a sparse return of four wickets in two Tests. Piedt already has the same number of scalps, and it’s only been one innings.
While South Africa have never quite settled on Tahir as a long-term solution, Piedt’s performance in his debut Test against Zimbabwe could spell the end of the import’s Test career. Although Tahir still has plenty to offer in the shorter formats of the game, he has lacked consistency in the longer form. With such a statement of debut Test, Tahir’s Test career could very much be at an end.
Piedt, although still a rookie, showed much promise already. By the close of play, he had made history. He was only the second South African ever, and the first since readmission, to take a wicket off his first ball in Tests. He’s the 19th overall to do it.
What is most exciting about Piedt is his variations and knowing how to use them. He switches between being both attacking and containing, showing maturity far beyond his 24 years and 41 first-class caps.
It’s a refreshing and exciting prospect for a South African team that has lacked the substance of a real spinner for a long time.
He's the first South African spinner in a long time who can actually turn the ball and has vowed that he has far more to offer than what he’s shown on Day 1 in Zimbabwe.
I have the topspinner and the carom ball, too. I only bowled one carom ball at the back end today because I tried to keep it nice and simple. I wanted to settle into the rhythm of bowling plenty of overs from one side.
He was taught that carom ball—by a 15-year-old kid—when he and a handful of other South Africans went on a spin camp to India back in 2012. Since then, he has learned more, matured more and kept on improving.
One of his favourite phrases is “stealing with the eyes”, meaning he is always learning, even if he is just tuning in to watch a Test on TV. If this is what he’s learned from watching from afar, just imagine where he could be once he starts watching the best in the world from a front-row seat.
All stats via ESPNCricinfo unless otherwise stated.
All quotes obtained firsthand from press conferences or from one-on-one interviews by the writer with Dane Piedt.