Cape Town – Courage under pressure? It can’t be plucked from trees.
Given their unenviable historical record of cracking under the strain at business-end moments of key World Cup matches, the Proteas only seem to confirm that.
So while you have to caution against getting too carried away by events in a considerably lower-gravitas Twenty20 bilateral international, you are also perfectly at liberty to notice any useful, transferable signals to the other white-ball arena.
One came radiantly on Tuesday night at Newlands -- where South Africa and Sri Lanka played out a welcome, rather overdue limited-overs humdinger -- from the evergreen Imran Tahir, now a week away from his 40th birthday on March 27 but seemingly almost getting younger and more zestful all the time.
First the wily leg-spinner bowled his conventional quota of four overs with typical skill levels and parsimony, dragging the visitors’ top scorer Kamindu Mendis out of his crease to engineer makeshift wicketkeeper David Miller’s maiden SA stumping and only conceding 21 runs from his four overs.
But then the Proteas produced a masterstroke by also employing Tahir – Sri Lanka by contrast opted for toe-crushing seasoned paceman Lasith Malinga, a more common ploy – as their bowler for the rare Super Over phase after the game was tied.
He was still looking a bundle of near-demonic energy and animated expressionism, after all, and the hosts opted to tap into those ongoing hallmarks for the crowd-pleasing “mini-match” despite the obvious extra perils often associated with a slow bowler being tasked with the gig.
Admittedly helped by being able to defend a healthy total of 14, Tahir showed utterly fearless qualities in his unanticipated extra over, in which the ‘Lankans never really looked like getting on top of him and ultimately fell well short of the requirement.
He can stretch cricketing decorum to the boundaries sometimes, like when he was already whooping it up extravagantly and noisily with a ball or two still to be bowled in his Super Over.
But there’s an infectious gleefulness, a sense of indestructibility, to much of what he does, and it can’t rub off too badly on any of the less demonstrative, perhaps slightly more conservative souls around him.
On Tuesday, as the heat rose fiercely on the contest, Tahir truly radiated these words: “I’ve got this … all will be fine.”
More importantly, he then delivered on the effective pledge.
It’s a quality that will come in hugely valuable at the World Cup.
Remember that Tahir -- massively, extraordinarily experienced and well-travelled -- doesn’t leak runs that easily, something borne out by his 98-game ODI career economy rate of 4.62.
That makes him superior, for example, to all of the Proteas men expected to make up the frontline seam attack at CWC 2019: Dale Steyn (4.87), Kagiso Rabada (4.98) and Lungi Ngidi (5.33).
If it wasn’t being considered already, he must come more firmly into the picture, even if conditions at various venues will be a crucial determinant, as a steely death-bowling factor there.
The answer, quite possibly, to more than a few South African prayers …
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