Senuran Muthusamy‘s mother may be “over the moon” with her son’s Test debut, but it is his grandmother who can take a major share of the credit for his success. After all, she used to give a young Senuran throwdowns in the back garden, something he described to Durban’s Tabloid Newspaper as his “fondest childhood memory”. Those sessions were also the early stages of his career development. It’s where he discovered he wanted to play sport for a living.
Muthusamy followed a fairly straightforward route through the school and age-group structures. He represented the Kwa-Zulu Natal province from Under-11 to Under-19 level, but remained hesitant to believe he could become a professional cricketer. On leaving Clifton College, Muthusamy completed a bachelor’s degree in social science from the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, specialising in media and marketing. All the while, he continued playing provincial cricket. Eventually, his grandmother’s efforts paid off and he made it into the Dolphins team in the 2015-16 season as a top-order batsman.
“He had the ability to bowl but his batting was always the main thing,” Imraan Khan, the current coach of Dolphins and Muthusamy’s former team-mate, told ESPNcricinfo.
Muthusamy provided proof of that ability by opening the batting and scoring a career-best 181 against the Knights in January 2017, but it was a short-lived stint at the top. That same season, his left-arm spin took centre stage. “His batting just dropped off a bit but his bowling went to another level.”
Muthusamy finished second on the franchise’s first-class bowling chart in the 2017-18 season, with 33 wickets in ten matches at 26.54. He scooped four prizes at the Dolphins’ annual awards, including Player of the Year, and was firmly on his way to bigger things. Imraan was particularly impressed with Muthusamy’s discipline and believed it would not be long before the national team came calling. “He has a super work ethic. He is very focused, he knows what he wants to achieve and how to achieve it.”
South Africa’s tour to India, which would require more spin resources than usual, presented the ideal opportunity for Muthusamy to get a look-in. Imraan was surprised neither by Muthusamy’s selection, nor the fact that he made his debut as early as in the first Test: “The potential was always there.”
Though Muthusamy only bowled five overs on the opening day, Imraan believes he has plenty to offer as the match and the series unfolds. “He is more of an attacking spinner and bowls it slower through the air than Keshav (Maharaj). And he is very clever, he plays around with his angles.”
Maharaj did most of the legwork on day one and has already become a mentor of sorts to Muthusamy. Whenever availability and conditions allowed, Imraan played the two of them together at the Dolphins since they “feed off each other”, forming a formidable duo. And that’s not all they have in common.
Like Maharaj, and at least another 1.3 million other South Africans, Muthusamy traces his ancestry back to India, and still has family in Nagapattinam, a town 300 kilometres south of Chennai. On the same coast, albeit a further 800 kilometres away in Visakhapatnam, Muthusamy made his Test debut and acknowledged there is some significance in the sense of place.
“My forefathers are from the south of India in Tamil Nadu, so it’s been really special,” Muthusamy said.
He described his family culture as “very much Indian”, professing to a love for yoga and being a frequent temple-goer. However, he said his roots do not run deep enough to divide his loyalties.
“I am firmly South African. I am quite a few generations down the line. I unfortunately don’t speak Tamil so I am a thoroughbred South African but there’s no getting away from that – our origins are in India”.
More pressingly, there is no getting away from the situation South Africa find themselves in, with India’s openers having piled on a stand of 202 and little sign that either Rohit Sharma or Mayank Agarwal will be removed easily. South Africa’s attack has toiled hard, and bowled relatively well, with no reward, which has taught Muthusamy how tough Test cricket is.
“You’ve got to be competing every ball. You’ve just got to hang in there, you’ve just got to plug away and just try gain control from that,” he said.
Muthusamy is sure the surface, which he described as a “good cricket wicket”, will take turn as the match progresses, allowing the spinners to come into play. “This wicket has been under cover for quite a few days but we know that it’s been dry, really, really dry, even though its been under covers and it’s been dusty. It will deteriorate through the game.”
That could give him a chance to come into the game but may not bode well for South Africa’s line-up, which only features six specialist batsmen.
Unless, of course, Muthusamy can call on some of those childhood training sessions and show off what Imraan believes he really is – a genuine allrounder.