SA in New Zealand

Has Tahir lost some lustre?

2012-02-15 13:01
Imran Tahir (Gallo)

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 7.

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 world rankings.

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 concerned.

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 ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    sa in new zealand  |  imran tahir
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