Cape Town – Imran Tahir, South Africa’s
expressive leg-spinner, may well have played his last of 20 Test matches.
I say that with some conviction: not
because I am especially averse to his continued presence in the Proteas mix –
he undoubtedly remains a key element of their limited-overs plans – but given
the pretty obvious lack of confidence which the team’s senior brains trust
appeared to have in him to bowl at critical stages of the troubled,
just-completed Test series in India.
Frankly, if Tahir is going to be deployed to
such a limited extent when the heat is on in dusty, abrasive conditions
tailor-made for attacking tweakers, what price him even playing any further in
the altogether less spin-friendly South African environment?
Statistically, it might seem callous and a
little peculiar to write off Tahir’s future prospects at five-day level, after
he ended the Indian series as the Proteas’ leading wicket-taker (14 at 21.35).
But he was still comfortably eclipsed on
the rank turners by Indian maestros Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja,
and his lone five-wicket haul, in the much-debated third Test at Nagpur, came
at a time in the Indian second knock when it was already widely believed the
hosts had enough runs in the bank – later proved as South Africa succumbed by
Generally in the series, and although he
played in all four Tests, Tahir was less trusted by Amla to bowl lots of overs
than the other specialist spinner included, whether it was Simon Harmer or,
later, Dane Piedt.
He tended to come into play far more when
tail-enders were at the wicket – knocking them over cheaply is one of his
traditional strengths – than genuine specialists with the blade.
Like many leggies, Tahir has always been
vulnerable to bowling some loose, “help yourself” deliveries and South Africa
have tended to prefer, in recent years, their main spinner to be someone
capable of strangling the flow of runs and building pressure for the fast
bowlers to exploit – particularly on pitches more suited to the quicker men.
The name of Paul Harris comes quickly to
mind as an example until not too long ago.
Tahir was recalled for the Indian series to
give the Proteas an especially attacking option on the spin front, while also
taking along two less experienced off-spinning customers in Harmer and Piedt.
Both of those two have good potential going
forward, even as they slowly learn the art of consistent containment to
supplement any attributes on the strike front, and it is my strong belief that
the pair will henceforth be given superior selection priority to the veteran Tahir,
who also offers less than either with the bat.
This view is backed up by the fact that South
Africa avoid going to the Subcontinent – they have just played respective
series against Bangladesh and India there – in Tests until August 2018, if the
ICC’s Future Tours Programme stays as is.
Only then do they tackle Sri Lanka on their
own turf, but more immediate assignments include England (home), New Zealand
(home) and away to Australia early next season ... I will be surprised if Tahir
features in any of those.
He turns 37 in March, so would be a
less-than-sprightly 39 by the time South Africa tour Sri Lanka again.
Tahir has played 20 Tests, in a rather
stop-start career in the format since 2011, and sports 57 wickets at an average
Bewitching at times -- though he has only
ever grabbed two five-fors -- his Test years may well end up being remembered
for the fact that South Africa never felt completely trusting of him or quite
how to make best use of him.
He is an ongoing jewel in the Proteas’
one-day crown – a top-ten presence in each of the global player rankings for
ODIs and Twenty20 internationals – and perhaps that should become his sole
focus in the twilight of his career for South Africa ...
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