Tahir: End of Test road?

2015-12-08 14:25
Imran Tahir (AP)

Cape Town – Imran Tahir, South Africa’s expressive leg-spinner, may well have played his last of 20 Test matches.

I say that with some conviction: not because I am especially averse to his continued presence in the Proteas mix – he undoubtedly remains a key element of their limited-overs plans – but given the pretty obvious lack of confidence which the team’s senior brains trust appeared to have in him to bowl at critical stages of the troubled, just-completed Test series in India.

Frankly, if Tahir is going to be deployed to such a limited extent when the heat is on in dusty, abrasive conditions tailor-made for attacking tweakers, what price him even playing any further in the altogether less spin-friendly South African environment?

Statistically, it might seem callous and a little peculiar to write off Tahir’s future prospects at five-day level, after he ended the Indian series as the Proteas’ leading wicket-taker (14 at 21.35).

But he was still comfortably eclipsed on the rank turners by Indian maestros Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, and his lone five-wicket haul, in the much-debated third Test at Nagpur, came at a time in the Indian second knock when it was already widely believed the hosts had enough runs in the bank – later proved as South Africa succumbed by 124 runs.

Generally in the series, and although he played in all four Tests, Tahir was less trusted by Amla to bowl lots of overs than the other specialist spinner included, whether it was Simon Harmer or, later, Dane Piedt.

He tended to come into play far more when tail-enders were at the wicket – knocking them over cheaply is one of his traditional strengths – than genuine specialists with the blade.

Like many leggies, Tahir has always been vulnerable to bowling some loose, “help yourself” deliveries and South Africa have tended to prefer, in recent years, their main spinner to be someone capable of strangling the flow of runs and building pressure for the fast bowlers to exploit – particularly on pitches more suited to the quicker men.

The name of Paul Harris comes quickly to mind as an example until not too long ago.

Tahir was recalled for the Indian series to give the Proteas an especially attacking option on the spin front, while also taking along two less experienced off-spinning customers in Harmer and Piedt.

Both of those two have good potential going forward, even as they slowly learn the art of consistent containment to supplement any attributes on the strike front, and it is my strong belief that the pair will henceforth be given superior selection priority to the veteran Tahir, who also offers less than either with the bat.

This view is backed up by the fact that South Africa avoid going to the Subcontinent – they have just played respective series against Bangladesh and India there – in Tests until August 2018, if the ICC’s Future Tours Programme stays as is.

Only then do they tackle Sri Lanka on their own turf, but more immediate assignments include England (home), New Zealand (home) and away to Australia early next season ... I will be surprised if Tahir features in any of those.

He turns 37 in March, so would be a less-than-sprightly 39 by the time South Africa tour Sri Lanka again.

Tahir has played 20 Tests, in a rather stop-start career in the format since 2011, and sports 57 wickets at an average of 40.24.

Bewitching at times -- though he has only ever grabbed two five-fors -- his Test years may well end up being remembered for the fact that South Africa never felt completely trusting of him or quite how to make best use of him.

He is an ongoing jewel in the Proteas’ one-day crown – a top-ten presence in each of the global player rankings for ODIs and Twenty20 internationals – and perhaps that should become his sole focus in the twilight of his career for South Africa ...

 *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  imran tahir  |  cricket

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