Cape Town – South Africa could find it a little tricky to
get Imran Tahir, their first-choice spinner as things stand, into a decent
groove in time for the first Test against New Zealand in early March.
The leg-spinner probably did just about enough in Test-match
combat against Australia and Sri Lanka on our soil this summer to justify a
place in the team for the opener against the Black Caps at Dunedin from March
This is not least because he ought to be a fair “mystery
factor” to the host nation, even if some of their batsmen would have been
briefly exposed to him during the World Cup quarter-final at Mirpur around a
year ago, which the Kiwis won a little against the odds.
But there are at
least two reasons to harbour some fears about his readiness to make a major
impact at the University Oval, where the Proteas will begin their difficult
quest for a clean sweep of the three-match series to advance to No 1 in the
One is that Tahir will go into action, if he is indeed
chosen for the first Test, probably rusty to some extent as his first-class
season is already over – the SuperSport Series finished last weekend, leaving
only the new-look MiWay T20 Challenge as far as local franchise activity is
The Proteas have no first-class warm-up fixture ahead of the
first Test: they go straight out of the last ODI on March 3 into five-day
combat against New Zealand four days later.
But he will also make the passage to New Zealand for the
Test part of the tour knowing that his SuperSport Series this season was
significantly inferior to his last one.
Tahir was the talk of the circuit last summer, after all, as
the Lahore-born journeyman neared completion of his long-awaited qualification
period for South Africa, and he ended up top wicket-taker in the series for the
Dolphins with 42 scalps at an average of 20.85.
That harvest included as many as six five-wicket hauls, and
two occasions in which he grabbed 10 wickets or more in a match.
But a glance at the completed averages for 2011/12 shows a
greatly less productive campaign: he took 26 wickets at 35.76.
There was just one five-wicket haul: the 5/67 he managed in
the Warriors’ first innings at Kingsmead in late January.
He did bag 3/133 against eventual champions the Titans in
the final round of the season at Centurion, where the bottom-placed Dolphins
imploded awfully with the bat, but “travelled” at 5.08 runs to the over as Faf
du Plessis (157 at almost a run a ball) and others got stuck into the visiting
bowling in the Titans’ lone required knock of 473 for nine declared.
Tahir, 32, even finished as low as sixth on the Dolphins’
bowling averages alone, and this at a franchise with an attack not exactly
loaded with “name” bowlers.
Conditions and various other factors can contribute to
vastly differing individual fortunes from one season to another – particularly
for leg-spinners, who ply a more complex trade than most -- but I may not be
alone among observers just beginning to wonder whether Tahir’s much-reputed box
of tricks is becoming a little easier to work out.
After all, commentators like former Proteas captain Kepler
Wessels correctly noted during the local Test season that Tahir’s conventional
“leggie” generally does not turn a great deal.
Still, at least the exuberant competitor bamboozled some
batsmen – especially lower-order ones – with a breathtaking wrong or straight
‘un at times.
Yet there may be just a hint of significance in the fact
that Tahir hasn’t been chosen as the lone spinner for the Test series against
the Black Caps – Robin Peterson, who last turned out at that level almost four
years ago, is among the 15-strong squad.
If he is successful in the limited-overs phase of the tour,
it is perhaps not out of the question that the left-arm spinner (also a better
package as fielder and batsman) nudges his way to the front of the queue,
however more Tahir may be perceived as a potential match-winner ...
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