Cape Town – The Proteas’ pace attack remains a device of considerable
reverence worldwide, but Imran Tahir’s slower fare could yet be more critical
to the outcome of Sunday’s big World Cup Pool B meeting in Melbourne (05:30)
between heavyweights India and South Africa.
That likelihood perhaps only gathers substance as reports
emerge from the SA camp that strike kingpin Dale Steyn is wrestling flu-like
symptoms ahead of the clash pitting the defending champions against foes who
have so often been a highly-touted yet stubbornly bridesmaid outfit at the
Hopefully there is more than enough time for Steyn to shrug
off any debilitating effects and be able to run in at full tilt on a track at
the illustrious MCG likely to suit his trade considerably more than the one at
Seddon Park, Hamilton, where Zimbabwe were unconvincingly subdued.
But even if the Phalaborwa Express is at his customary post
– often as first-change in ODIs these days behind Vernon Philander and Morne
Morkel – the Proteas’ may find themselves relying quite heavily on the varied
wiles of Tahir for precious, momentum-arresting wickets ahead of the
late-innings slog by the Indians in a match many expect to be high-scoring as
stellar batting line-ups go head to head.
The veteran leg-spinner, interestingly, will be turning out
in his maiden ODI bowling appearance against these opponents, despite 31 prior
caps for South Africa and an impressive record of 58 wickets at 19.81 and
economy of 4.36.
He did have one earlier game against the Indians at
Centurion, in the last of three matches on the controversially slashed tour two
seasons back, but the encounter was washed out from the dinner break after SA,
already series winners at 2-0 to the good, had posted 301 for eight.
India have been elusive 50-overs foes to Pakistan-born Tahir
for another reason: he would almost certainly have tackled them at the last
World Cup in 2011, at Nagpur, after making a very successful handful of earlier
appearances at the event in his debut tournament for his adopted country.
But he was forced to sit out the clash, eventually won by
South Africa despite India later going on to grab the crown, due to a short-lived
finger injury at the time.
Touch wood from a Proteas point of view, Tahir is fighting
fit this time and will take to the MCG fixture in a fairly healthy state
mentally: he comes off the Zimbabwe game having boasted the best bowling
performance for the winning side of 3/36 from a full 10 overs.
Tahir, who sends down as many wrong ‘uns and fast, flat
straight balls as he does his stock leggies, put an essential stop to Zimbabwe’s
once-burgeoning progress in pursuit of 340 as he snared both Chamu Chibhabha
(64) and Hamilton Masakadza (80) in the middle phase of the innings to calm a
few frayed nerves among supporters of the firm favourites in the all-African
It will be encouraging to the Proteas brains trust, with a
view to the juggernaut array of Indian stroke-players, that he is in quite
prolific scalp-grabbing form generally, having taken 11 in his last four ODIs,
even if those matches only involve Zimbabwe or the almost similarly modest West
The MCG match will provide a further stern test of Tahir’s
ability – or otherwise -- to excel on the firm and often true tracks of
Australia, which have not yet proved his best hunting ground in either ODI or
Mention the name of Tahir in an Aussie context, of course,
and supporters of that nation will gleefully, quickly remind of his notorious
0/260 pummelling at the hands of the Baggy Greens in the Adelaide Test of
Give the colourful, animated journeyman his due: he does not
appear to have been too scarred by that occasion, and has become a deep-rooted
part of the Proteas’ ODI furniture these days even if the jury remains out over
his five-day credentials.
Tahir did play three ODIs on Australian soil in the
bilateral series in November, although he was an unremarkable influence in the
back-to-back encounters at Perth and one further personal appearance in
What might the vast MCG, against newer enemies India, have
in store for him?
The answer could just be a game-influencer ...
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