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Cricket: Proteas must decide if Tahir is a gamble worth taking

Cricket: Proteas must decide if Tahir is a gamble worth taking

South Africa were out-spun in the first Test in Mohali, and while they are unlikely to get another pitch with quite so much turn, they need to decide whether Imran Tahir is a gamble worth taking on a flatter pitch. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

If South Africa were searching for positives after their humiliating defeat in the opening Test against India, they could perhaps stretch so far as to say the extra time off will be useful on such a long tour, especially with so many players nursing niggles. That is the harshest assessment possible, of course, but considering the road warriors – who have not lost a Test series away from home since 2006 – looked like polar bear lost in the Sahara, it’s not completely unfair.

South Africa have until Saturday to do a proper post-mortem on what, exactly, went wrong when they were beaten inside three days by a 108 runs (Hint: It was not the pitch). The CPR-machine called upon to see if the cadaver can be resuscitated with a few organ transplants in the form of personnel changes.

The tourists weakened their batting significantly in the first Test, with JP Duminy’s absence proving to be one of the key factors. Not only is Duminy a fine player of spin, he also offers a handy option with the ball, but in an attempt to play the conditions rather than the players, South Africa opted for scarce as hen’s teeth line-up that featured two spinners. One of those spinners was Imran Tahir, who had not played a Test since last year. His reintroduction raised a few eyebrows. He did a good job at dismissing the tail on day one – something South Africa has struggled with in the past – but on day two, as India’s batsmen became more settled, he struggled to stay grounded when the pressure is absorbed, and transferred back onto the bowlers.

On a turning track, the leg spinner should be one of the first bowlers the captain turns to, attacking while building pressure should force wickets, but Tahir still struggles with finding a stock ball to build that pressure. He has a wonderful arsenal of deliveries and they serve him well in limited overs, but in Tests, it simply does not work. Tahir is guilty of trying far too many things in one over and getting it wrong more often than not. He bowled a miserly spell in the first innings with 47 of his 60 balls being dot balls, but Tahir was only introduced to the attack 43 overs into the match, with India five wickets down. The hosts lasted just another 25 before they were all out. In the second innings, Tahir managed 69 dot balls out of 96, brought in much earlier this time, coming on to bowl for the 14th over, with India just one wicket down. While he did not exactly leak boundaries, it’s the ease with which India rotated the strike that is of concern. In the second innings, when bowling far more, Tahir managed just one maiden. That’s not exactly the mark of a player who is meant to make things happen.

Dale Steyn’s absence from the bowling attack – off the field with a groin strain – obviously had an impact on how the South Africa approached day two. But the best teams in the world find a way to get out of a hole and South Africa have done so on a number of occasions. The psychological impact of losing Steyn will be there, of course, but as the number-one ranked team in the world, South Africa will have to rise above it.

Of concern for South Africa, is that for long periods during India’s second innings, they never really looked like they were going to take a wicket. Shikhar Dhawan, a man as out of form as an 80-over old ball, was back in the change room in his mind already, way before he nicked off to slip. The second wicket – Murali Vjay – was only out because of a brilliant catch. There was no sign of pressure building and bogging India down. South Africa allowed India’s batsmen to settle, and it cost them.

Fortunately for South Africa, it is highly unlikely that the next wicket in Bangalore will offer quite so much turn. Wherever the idea for that wicket in Mohali came from, it won’t be repeated quite so soon, it is simply too much of a gamble for India as they hardly looked at ease against innocuous turn. But South Africa have gambles of their own to think about. Should Duminy return to fitness (as he is expected to), they will have to choose between Tahir, Simon Harmer and Dane Piedt. Tahir offers an attacking option in the latter stages of the innings, but it’s hard to be convinced that he offers enough to be a frontline option. With the frontline fast bowlers all expected to be fit, how South Africa choose to support them will be a key point in this series. DM

Photo: South African bowler Imran Tahir (L) celebrates with team-mate Jacques Rudolf (R) as he dismisses Australian batsman Peter Siddle (unseen) for a duck on the second day of the second Test match between South Africa and Australia at the Wanderers in Johannesburg, South Africa, 18 November 2011. EPA/JON HRUSA.

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