Rob Houwing

Tahir to twiddle his thumbs!

2011-02-09 09:34
Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing (File)
Rob Houwing

Leg-spin phenomenon Imran Tahir will only come into serious reckoning if South Africa’s World Cup campaign is on the point of going pear-shaped and suddenly requires a desperate “Plan B”.

That is my belief and I’m sticking to it.

I am not even sure we will finally get to gauge him in a Proteas match-day shirt in the warm-up matches against Zimbabwe and Australia, if the team’s brains trust opts to use them more to brush the cobwebs off their intended first XI than for any experimental purposes.

Of course I may be proved wholly wrong on Tahir – perhaps a rare, slightly left-field spirit of daring and enterprise is going to envelop normally cautious South Africa’s entire campaign, with potential strike factor Tahir at the very core of it.

But I prefer to believe at this juncture that the Proteas are going to largely “go with the troops they know” and, rightly or wrongly, back the men who edged out India 3-2 (albeit certainly not without hiccup) in the recent ODI series on our soil.

So this, I think, will be the team fielded in the first Group B match against West Indies in Delhi on February 24: Smith, Amla, Kallis, De Villiers, Duminy, Van Wyk (or Du Plessis), Peterson, Botha, Steyn, Morkel, Tsotsobe.

 Assuming that Jacques Kallis will be fit to bowl, the Proteas will feel comfortable that they retain their customary strength and trust in seam bowling, regardless of the fact that they will be on the Subcontinent with all the heartbreak it can offer bowlers of this nature.

Their argument will be that quality, canny pacemen can prosper on all surfaces, and perhaps point also to the fact that all of Messrs Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Morne Morkel presently lie in the top 10 on the world ODI bowler rankings, with Kallis an experienced and trusty back-up to them.

And they will defend their line-up, additionally, by saying that it could still ensure at least 23 to 25 overs of spin if required, with a full spell expected of Johan Botha and potentially also Robin Peterson, and JP Duminy always capable of chipping in with a mini-stint of supplementary off-breaks.

Yes, reading between the lines I feel that Tahir will be such a “mystery factor” that we barely see him: I just don’t think the Proteas are mentally prepared yet to field a leggie in a high-responsibility role, given some of the obvious perils associated with doing so.

Certainly he would be subject to likely attack early on, as bowlers of his delicate art invariably are, and South Africa may also not feel – although this is a rather more secondary factor – that AB de Villiers, who still has precious little experience standing up at the stumps to a leg-spinner, is quite ready to “work” with Tahir.

Being basically a non-batsman, too, means that Tahir can probably only play at the expense of one of the three specialist pacemen; by fielding Botha and Peterson as their main spinners the Proteas will feel that their lower middle-order has some semblance of batting stability and depth even if it will remain rather glaringly lacking in a spirited, six-hitting slogger.

So unless one of Morkel or Tsotsobe fares notably wretchedly in early World Cup matches, I cannot envisage Tahir breaking into the XI.

As I said, if the patient squad-man does eventually crack the nod, it will be because a general sense of desperation has somehow engulfed the South African camp and the script has to be crumpled and redrawn as a save-the-sinking-ship measure.

Then Tahir will be handed a Superman cape, for sure, and told to work miracles in a hurry.

Unless he was selling some red herrings – and it tends not to be his nature to do that – key SA batsman and now rightly senior player Hashim Amla only reinforced recently, I thought, my own belief that Botha, and not Tahir, will be the country’s most heavily-engaged tweaker at this World Cup.

Interviewed by Cricinfo with a view to the tournament, he said: “We shouldn’t put all our hopes on Imran. He is a quality player with a lot of first-class experience and he should be allowed to settle into the team at this level.

“(Johan Botha) has done a great job for us over the years and is a very intelligent bowler. He may not be known as a wicket-taker but he controls the middle portion of an innings and if the runs need to be dried up, he is the go-to man.”

Say no more?

Rob Houwing is Sport24’s chief writer

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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