Having been wrapped in cotton wool during the preceding home series despite already having qualified for his adopted country, former captain Graeme Smith unleashed the Lahore-born leg-spinner in spectacular fashion at the 2011 World Cup.
Fourteen wickets at an average of 10.71 and economy rate of only 3.79 runs per over suggested South Africa had finally found their own spin bowling artist to rival the geniuses from the sub-continent. Tahir has certainly built on his early promise – specifically in limited-overs cricket – and even though the mystery of 2011 has dissipated, the 36-year-old enters the World T20 here as one of the leading spinners of the competition.
There’s no doubt that like Smith before him Proteas T20 captain Faf du Plessis will be heavily reliant on Tahir to not only contain the run-flow during the middle overs, but to also be an attacking threat as he has been over the past two years. Tahir has claimed 30 wickets at 15.63 during this period.
Such is his growing stature on the global stage that it is not only Tahir’s teammates who rate him highly.
In fact, India’s greatest ever leg-spinner Anil Kumble, believes the South African spin maestro could be the show-stopper of this sixth World T20 due to his knowledge of the local conditions. “Imran Tahir is definitely seen as a key member of the South African team and the key to their success in the shorter format,” the former India captain, who claimed 956 wickets in his international career, told local media here. “He will be a player to watch. He understands Indian conditions well because of the time he has spent in India, playing the IPL. That will give him confidence.”
With the spotlight firmly on the well-travelled “leggie”, there is a fear that all the hype could possibly distract Tahir from performing his crucial role within the overall South African team strategy.
Speaking to a large media contingent at the Brabourne Stadium yesterday, where the Proteas were preparing for their warm-up match against a Mumbai Cricket Association XI today, Tahir said he welcomed the test of not only his skill but his character too.
“There is no extra pressure on me as a leg-spinner,” he explained. “The leg-spinner can change the game and the off-spinner is more likely to contain but for me it’s important to have a bigger heart. You often get the pressure as a leg-spinner, the bats are bigger, the boundaries are shorter … so if you know your plans and bowl with a clear mind you will do well.
“It’s important to back yourself. That’s the most important thing because if you are hit for two boundaries, then you obviously try and ‘hide’. That is not the best way to go forward in cricket. You rather go with an attacking mind after you are hit for a few boundaries. That’s why you need to have a bigger heart,” Tahir added.
Tahir will probably bowl in tandem with South Africa’s second spinner Aaron Phangiso today as the coaching staff look to give the latter more time in the middle to become accustomed to his re-modelled action. The opening warm-up match against hosts India, which the Proteas won on Saturday, was not televised but it is believed that the Proteas coaching staff were pleased with the progress the left-arm spinner has made with his new action.
It is crucial that Phangiso utilises every opportunity to bowl in match conditions despite being behind Tahir in the current pecking-order. Although South Africa are mainly dependent on their seam bowling resources and will in all likelihood play only Tahir in two matches here in Mumbai, Du Plessis has alluded to the fact that Proteas selection panel could debate playing a twin-spin attack in Nagpur and Delhi where the surfaces traditionally assist the slower bowlers more.
AB de Villiers is also likely to come back into the Proteas line-up at the top of the order after being rested for the series decider against Australia at Newlands and last Saturday’s warm-up game against India here. - Cape TimesIt was five years ago here in the intoxicating atmosphere of India that Imran Tahir debuted for the Proteas.
Original source: India legend wary of Tahir