Cape Town - The brilliance of Imran Tahir as a limited-overs international bowler only burgeons ... not much more than a month short of his 38th birthday.
This bamboozling, unusually expressive spinner was at it again in Auckland on Friday, playing a central role in the Proteas’ 78-run thrashing of hosts New Zealand in the once-off Twenty20 clash to signal the start of bilateral hostilities.
It was South Africa’s third largest margin of victory in runs terms in this format, only eclipsed by beating minnows Scotland by 130 runs at The Oval in 2009, and England by 84 at Centurion later in the same year.
“We didn’t really fire a shot,” admitted Black Caps skipper Kane Williamson afterwards.
He might have added that the cool, calculating visitors effectively produced booming salvoes, by contrast, with the greater tour picture in mind.
The circus moves down the road to Hamilton, some 127km away, for Sunday’s first of five one-day internationals (03:00, SA time) at Seddon Park.
By bagging five for 24 in just one delivery short of a maximum stint of four overs, Tahir registered his best personal haul in T20 internationals, eclipsing prior identical figures of 4-0-21-4 against the Netherlands in Chittagong and England in Cape Town.
His five scalps came in the space of just 15 eventful balls from his bewitching arm.
Tahir’s wrong ‘un was a weapon of considerable destruction once more, whilst his control and customary, just-get-that-ball-in-my-hand effervescence were also plain to see.
Kiwi television commentator Simon Doull was moved to say: “He shows the enthusiasm of a 17-year-old, not a guy of 37.”
It was a fitting way for the bearded, multi-pronged tweaker to celebrate his first match since confirmation that he was now the top-ranked global bowler in both T20 and ODI cricket.
With his almost unfailing strike potential in the “middle” phase of an enemy innings, Tahir clearly shapes up as a massive factor in the ODI portion of the tour, and begins with the knowledge that when he last visited Seddon Park, during the 2015 World Cup, he earned an analysis of 10-0-36-3 against southern African neighbours Zimbabwe.
En route to his final figures on Friday, Tahir joined Dale Steyn (58 from 42 games) as the second South African to get past 50 wickets in T20 internationals; he currently sports 54 from just 31 appearances.
If you lump together the 3/18 he notched against Sri Lanka just some three weeks ago at Newlands, Tahir has combined figures of 8/42 from his last two completed T20 internationals - that is devastation in anyone’s language.
He is the second fastest bowler in T20 history to get to 50 wickets, only trailing Sri Lankan Ajantha Mendis, who reached the landmark in 26 appearances.
Now 12th on the all-time list for wickets grabbed in the format, Tahir shows a better average (13.70) than all the players above him.
His economy rate (6.38) is also only a whisker inferior to one of those customers, Pakistan’s Saeed Ajmal (6.36).
Another Pakistani, flamboyant all-rounder Shahid Afridi, is the leading wicket-taker in T20 internationals with 97 scalps - but he needed 98 matches to get there.
After Hashim Amla had led the earlier SA batting surge with a cavalier, sometimes necessarily high-risk 62 off 43 balls, most of the seam bowlers around Tahir also played suitably focused, meaningful roles in the systematic derailing of the NZ reply.
The exception was Wayne Parnell, as the unpredictable left-arm paceman was smacked for 40 runs in three overs on the small-boundaries venue, so he is at risk of losing ground in the dogfight for regular berths by a battery of bowling all-rounders; both Chris Morris and Andile Phehlukwayo only enhanced their credentials at Eden Park.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing