Sri Lanka in SA
'Bowl last' boost for Tahir
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Imran Tahir (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - The likelihood of South Africa bowling last in the decisive third Test against Sri Lanka at Newlands this week is a real incentive for Imran Tahir, the Proteas’ leg-spinner, to banish concerns about his ability to settle into the five-day arena.
The Pakistan-born customer has had four Tests thus far to “feel” his way into the set-up, with a return of nine wickets at an average of just under 40 meaning that the jury remains out on his longer-term suitability to the cause.
He has not yet had notable success as a strike factor, barring one productive stint against a bamboozled Australian tail at the Wanderers, and with an economy rate just erring on the side of expensiveness at 3.64, his competence in a holding capacity has also come under some scrutiny.
Of course the pitches employed this summer have tended not to suit his complex trade, however, and this Test probably represents his best chance to significantly demonstrate what he is made of.
It is expected - as is customary for Newlands at this time of the year as sunshine and the south-easterly wind normally takes a proper hold - to aid spin bowling the longer the match progresses.
So the decision by Sri Lankan captain Tillakaratne Dilshan to insert the Proteas enhances the chances of Tahir coming into his own, especially in the tourists’ second turn at the crease in the likely event that they bat last in the match.
The New Year Test last year - also the last one of a three-Test series - was marked by the failure of South Africa to bowl out India in the fourth innings and the drab draw meant the visitors shared the series.
The Proteas’ specialist spinner at the time, left-armer Paul Harris, wheeled away unsuccessfully for 30 overs at a cost of only 29 runs but no scalps as the Indians, set a target of 340, were happy to labour to 166 for three in 82 overs for the stalemate.
Tahir was expected to bring some necessary, new “X-factor” to the department for the South Africa, although delivery to a meaningful degree is still awaited from him.
As former Proteas paceman Fanie de Villiers pointed out on his latest “BVP” chat show on DStv, Tahir has infused a welcome element of passion and zest to the national team, and he has also shown a calm nonchalance as a tail-end batsman in twice helping South Africa avoid follow-ons.
But he will not need reminding that it is at his main trade that Graeme Smith’s under-pressure side need him to produce the goods most ... could this Test finally be his big breakthrough?
The 32-year-old was recently omitted from the one-day squad, with the national selectors instead opting only for Johan Botha and Robin Peterson, both of whom offer stronger qualities with the bat and in the field for the five-match ODI series against the Lankans.
In South African conditions, that decision is unlikely to have upset or surprised Tahir too much.
But there are plenty of purists likely to be only willing him enthusiastically to nail down his Test spot more solidly ...