Proteas in Australia

Tahir: Oz avenge McGain pain

2012-11-22 14:13
Imran Tahir (Gallo)
Cape Town – The last time a specialist leg-spinner experienced humiliation during a Test series between South Africa and Australia, he quickly disappeared into the wilderness.

Bryce McGain infamously made his debut for the Baggy Greens, aged 36, in the dead-rubber third Test against the Proteas at Newlands in 2008/09, the Australians having already taken an unassailable 2-0 lead.

With relatively little at stake, South Africa, to their credit, belatedly produced a muscular performance and won by an innings after amassing a juggernaut 651 in their lone knock.

VIDEO: Australia v South Africa, Day 1 highlights

AB de Villiers, especially, took a liking to the hapless McGain’s increasing supply of buffet balls and the bowler’s eventual analysis was 18-2-149-0.

Gleeful South Africans were not shy in the aftermath to make such helpful suggestions to the Aussies as: “Think again, don’t think McGain.”

Four seasons on -- though admittedly after just the first, astonishingly eventful day’s play in the second Test at Adelaide Oval – any sniggering could be said to have swopped camps.

After a day of often unbearable, ego-popping suffering for a wayward and injury-hit Proteas attack collectively, the most shell-shocked figure would probably have been South Africa’s leggie Imran Tahir.

The 33-year-old, Pakistan-born journeyman took the worst “tap” of all as the Aussies blitzed their way to 482 for five at a rate of 5.55 runs to the over.

If they continue to demonstrate such desire in the first session of the second day’s play – though at least the Proteas have a new ball in their hands – then 600 may well be feasible by lunchtime, especially if the incredible Michael Clarke is still there and pressing remorselessly toward a triple century.

And that would be some signal of the extent to which the home nation have already moved this game forward; it would not be unreasonable in many Test matches for the side batting first to hoist that sort of total after six sessions, not four.

It might seem a little unjust to single out Tahir for special scrutiny amidst the general carnage, and also with plenty of game-time left for him to pull things back if he can, but he was also the Proteas bowler around whom most uncertainty revolved ahead of this series.

Even after 10 Tests preceding this one, the player could not be said to have truly bedded himself down in the side – he has consistently struggled to dismiss “cream” batsmen and his effectiveness has been limited primarily to making a nuisance of himself against tailenders.

Then he was unconvincing in the warm-up match against Australia ‘A’ at Sydney ... evidently enough so for the team’s brains trust to take the wholly unexpected step of breaking up their XI that had done duty throughout the successful series in England and omit him from the line-up for the first Test in Brisbane.

When Tahir was logically and predictably restored to plans for this Test, there was always the risk that it would be accompanied by some increased self-doubt by the player, given that he would have sensed the camp climate of unease around his abilities.

And just how much will he be scarred by what quickly turned into his torrid Thursday?

Tahir was simply never allowed to settle by the rampaging Clarke and co-centurions David Warner and Michael Hussey, and the savage, contemptuous treatment he received (figures at the close of 21-0-159-0 and a particularly bilious economy rate of 7.57) will already rekindle questions around his suitability to performing the necessary “holding job” in first knocks.

It must be a reasonably depressing thought for him already that the Aussies have clobbered so many runs that they may not even be required to bat a second time, when conditions ought to have deteriorated enough to make him more of a strike factor, as he obviously prefers.

And if they do, there is also every chance that they may simply be looking for pretty quick runs once more, only further turning up the heat on him to prevent further haemorrhaging.

Tahir’s Test bowling average was an iffy 40 going into the Adelaide Test, and after day one it has swelled to 46, for his fairly ho-hum 26 wickets and best innings haul of three for 55.

Towards the end of the debilitating day for the South Africans (compounded by the threat to Jacques Kallis’s further participation in the match and Dale Steyn’s tight hamstring), even the part-time leg-spinner, Faf du Plessis, was beginning to do a better job than the specialist at slightly stemming the flow of runs.

On that note, after Vernon Philander woke up with a bad back and had to be replaced not long before the start of play – thus earning Rory Kleinveldt a sudden reprieve – knowledgeable Aussie commentator and ex-player Tom Moody tweeted that the South Africans might have considered fielding left-arm spinner Robin Peterson on the dry and flat surface, rather than “replace pace with pace”. 

If it is any consolation for Tahir, the team he represents are all in a wee pickle together at present, although captain Graeme Smith might do very well to remind his troops that, hold on a minute, they haven’t lost a Test match on this tour yet even if the script is not currently playing out quite as they anticipated it would ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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