When murmurs of legspinner Imran Tahir’s imminent debut for South Africa first started to surface, the excitement was palpable. An authentic, attacking legspinner was finally going to feature in a team which had so long relied on pace, aggression and spinners who failed to make an impact.
Tahir’s arrival was heralded, in many circles, as the vital cog that had for so long been missing in the SA attack. After he finished as the top-wicket taker in the South African four-day domestic competition in 2010-11, taking 42 wickets in the tournament, including six five-wicket hauls and two-ten wicket hauls, the expectations on Tahir were huge.
He stepped out in his Test whites for the first time against Australia last year and went wicketless in the first Test after chipping in with 10 overs. He managed his debut scalp in the next Test, though, also against Australia, trapping Brad Haddin leg-before and taking three wickets over all. He trundled along as the South African summer progressed, and was annihilated in Durban, by Sri Lanka. In the first innings, he took just one wicket and conceded 101 runs.
He faces one of his toughest tasks yet in just a few weeks: bowling to an impressive England batting line-up. Instead of joining the team in Switzerland for their bonding sessions, Tahir is staying behind and working on his bowling while playing for the South African A side.
The A side was scheduled to play two games against Sri Lanka A, the first of which they won convincingly, by an innings and eight runs. Tahir managed to only bowl in the second innings and took three wickets, conceding 82 runs in 22.4 overs.
Vincent Barnes, coach of the South African A team, admits patience is something the leggie needs to work on.
“I sat down with Imran after the game to just talk about where his thoughts were at, just ahead of him leaving for England,” Barnes tells The Daily Maverick.
“He needs to work on being more patient and understand that he is going to bowling to some high-class players in England, and he has to remember that with his style of bowling, he needs to just stay patient and use his variations.”
Tahir has often struggled to remain calm under pressure, especially after taking a wicket. Instead of containing batsmen, he tries to take wickets with every single ball, something Barnes says happened again in the South Africa A match.
“In this match against Sri Lanka A, for instance, he cleaned somebody up with a googly, and when the number nine batsman walked out, the ball almost bounced twice. It’s that kind of thing he needs to get into the right frame of mind about,” says Barnes.
Tahir has put in some hard practice ahead of the tour to England, although, it is not uncharted territory for the 33-year old. He has previously had a stint with Hampshire and Middlesex, but never has Tahir been faced with quite the galactic occasion of having to play a part in the tussle for world’s number one Test team.
“He has done as much as he can here, he has bowled in the nets every day for the last two weeks, morning and afternoon. He bowled in the two-day game last weekend and he bowled as much as he could in this South Africa A match. He’s definitely put in the hard yards,” Barnes says.
Tahir will also have two warm-up matches before the first Test against England starts on 19 July. It’s a big challenge for the Pakistan-born player, and it’s a chance to prove that he has got what it takes to step up and fill the role he has been selected for. But Barnes cautions that he’ll have to remain patient, especially because he will most certainly be targeted by the English batsmen.
“Imran needs to remember that he does not need to prove himself as a legspinner; he is one of the best spinners in the country. He just needs to go out there and bowl as a legspinner,” Barnes adds.
The wickets in England will offer very little for him, but if he could get inside England’s heads and exploit their seeming ineptitude against spin – a weakness which was exposed by Pakistan recently – he could end up having a good few weeks at the office. DM
Photo: Imran Tahir (2ndR) of South Africa celebrates with team mates the dismissal of Usman Khawaja, who was caught out by Jacques Kallis during the fourth day of the second test against Australia in Johannesburg, November 20, 2011. (REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko)
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