While the South Africans’ innings left a lot to be desired,solid bowling by the 38-year-old proved a great start asthe team sets its sights on it first ICC trophy since 1998.
After relinquishing his title as the number one-ranked One Day International (ODI) bowler in the world this week, Imran Tahir provided a timely reminder of his qualities in South Africa’s 96-run win in their first ICC Champions Trophy game against Sri Lanka yesterday.
With South Africa having posted 299/6 in the two teams’ Group B clash at The Oval at a tournament where totals of over 300 have never looked more attainable, Sri Lanka were off to a flier in response (90/1 after 10 overs) when Tahir intervened.
Allied with good fielding, particularly by his captain AB de Villiers, and well-crafted knocks by Hashim Amla (103) and Faf du Plessis (75), the leg spinner rescued the Proteas from what looked a sticky situation in taking 4/27 off 8.3 overs to set them on their way as they try to win a major ICC trophy for the first time since they won the same cup in 1998.
The 38-year-old also chipped in with Suranga Lakmal’s run-out in a man-of-the-match performance that showed he will be a handful even in the English conditions, which are supposed to help pace more than spin.
South Africa’s innings – which ran 35 minutes over the allotted time owing to Sri Lanka’s tardiness – had been a frustrating affair in which the Proteas never gave the impression of quite getting going, let alone cutting loose.
The three main reasons for that were a sticky wicket at The Oval, a disciplined bowling effort by Sri Lanka’s bowlers and the Proteas’ big hitters, De Villiers and David Miller, not teeing off after being given a reasonable platform.
The ball didn’t quite come on to the bat and Sri Lanka’s frontline bowlers Lasith Malinga, Lakmal and Nuwan Pradeep – now coached by Proteas fast-bowling great Allan Donald – gave the South African batsmen little to work with.
The pick of the bunch was Pradeep with his 2/54, with Malinga making life difficult at the death when the Proteas sought to press home their advantage. Yet, South Africa’s total did give the Sri Lankans a run per ball to chase, thanks to Amla’s hundred and his and Du Plessis’ second wicket partnership of 145.
The two went about their innings in different ways, with Amla happy to drop anchor en route to scoring his 25th ODI century while Du Plessis had intent written all over his 75 off 70 balls (six fours) after being given a life by being comically dropped on eight by Malinga off a mistimed hook off Pradeep.
Amla’s 103, from 115 balls with five fours and two sixes, meant he had scored the most hundreds by a South African in ODIs and achieved one of his by now customary “fastest to” accolades in limited overs cricket, this one the fewest innings to a quarter century of tons (151).
To gain an insight into how quickly, yet unobtrusively, Amla – whose afternoon was ended by yet another run-out – has got to the milestone, you have to look at who is second – Virat Kohli on 162 innings.
Yet, for all that foundation, the Proteas’ innings always left a lot to be desired, with De Villiers and Miller perhaps getting out going for too much too soon on a wicket on which application seemed the best way forward.