The passion of Mr T: a rare and wonderful thing

Sunday Times

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

NEW Zealand are plodding through a wintry vacuum devoid of relevance and interest on their tour of SA. But no such cynicism will rise from the throats or bubble in the blood of the good folk of Potchefstroom, where the second one-day international will be played on Sunday.

Cricket in small towns sizzles with soul that stadiums in cities cannot hope to capture. And the peeps in Potch should know that, out on the field, at least one heart will beat as one with theirs.

“If I mistakingly drop my cap, I pick it up and kiss it,” Imran Tahir said. “This (playing for SA) is the biggest thing in my life. I have a lot of respect, whatever format I play.”

Respek, Mr T. And thank you. In these days of cricket veering between moneyball and dodgyball, a player who plays this silly game for the sake of playing it as well as he can – and bugger everything else – is a rare and wonderful thing.

That AB de Villiers knows, as he said after SA won the first match of the series in Centurion on Wednesday, he can count on Tahir to control the pace of a game “pumps my heart”, the leg spinner said. “I want to be the guy he can trust.”

Tahir was that guy in Centurion, ending a century stand by removing Kiwi kingpin Kane Williamson and then dismissing the dangerous Colin Munro.

On a surface that is expected to be less friendly to bowlers than even Potchefstroom’s perfectly platteland pitches, Tahir’s vexing variation, taut temperament, nuggety nous and, most of all, his soaring, singing spirit could be the difference between SA clinching the series and New Zealand levelling it heading into the third game in Durban on Wednesday.

Of course, the last time SA were a victory away from winning a one-day rubber, they flopped against a bunch of palookas. Twice.

And New Zealand are not Bangladesh. Not for nothing are the men in black often described as flinty. Historically, star players have they few. So how much can it matter to them that Brendon McCullum, Ross Taylor, Trent Boult, Tim Southee are not in the mix, and even that Martin Guptill could be ruled out with a wrist injury?

But none of that matters to Tahir: “I’ve been playing cricket for quite a long time all over the world and all the situations I have been in have given me confidence. I love challenges.”

Does he ever, and a challenge he shall have on Sunday. If he rises to it, with his passion on parade as it always is, Potch will kiss him.

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