TELFORD VICE, Mohali
WHERE the hell was he? His name was on the list of victims for SA’s open media session in Mohali on Tuesday, and at least one senior Indian journalist had turned up expecting to be able to gather the material needed to write a piece on him. And now he was nowhere to be seen.
Soon, the theories began leaping like flames.
He would not be picked and had stormed off in a huff on discovering his fate.
He would be picked but SA did not want his brain picked by the famously inquisitive Indian press.
Whether he would of would not be picked was not the issue. He simply did not want to talk to reporters; any reporters.
And, most bizarrely but not at all unlikely, he was kept away over concerns for his safety. He is, after all, Muslim and Pakistani-born to boot in a country whose noisier politicians aggressively promote Hinduism and launch verbal missiles at Pakistan.
Indeed, there had been reports that he had been confined to the team hotel in Mumbai last weekend. Team sources denied this, saying “nothing extraordinary” had been arranged for him and his wife.
Wherever Paul Harris was when this all went down, he wasn’t in Imran Tahir’s shoes.
“I love ‘Harro’, but he will tell you himself he wasn’t the best spinner in the world,” Dale Steyn said. “But he fitted in and he did a job and he knew what his job was and if he did his job well.
“The fast bowlers could rotate around him and we could all function as a unit and get the 20 wickets we needed to win a test match.”
How times have changed.
“Now we’ve got spinners who do turn the ball a little bit more than ‘Harro’; they’ve got more skill. ‘Immi’ bowls googlies, flippers, ‘leggies’ …
“We’ve got bowlers that are more of a strike force than ‘Harro’.”
None of which was meant to cast aspersions on the yeoman service Harris delivered in his 37 tests. Besides, all of it was true: back in those days SA bowled spin about as well as they played it.
This time SA have arrived in India with a lot more slow poisoners than Tahir. Young, sniping off-spinners Simon Harmer and Dane Piedt are also here. JP Duminy, a batsman of no mean off-spinning ability, missed the Mohali test with a hand injury but could be back in action in Bangalore on Saturday. And then there’s Dean Elgar, the James Bond of part-time slow bowlers.
That’s five spinners, or fully a third of SA’s squad of 15 even though two of them were chosen as batsmen.
This from a team who have built their culture on the truth that, whatever else happens, they have world class fast bowlers to lean on. Bowlers like Steyn. Was the balance of that culture shifting towards spin, or was this squad tilted for Indian conditions?
“Everyone has a job to do,” Steyn said. “Everybody fits into this team somewhere as a unit to be able to pick up 20 wickets. If we do our jobs properly we will probably get those 20 wickets we are after, even if its split evenly between fast bowlers and spinners.
“We do rely heavily on our quicks. You look at the one-day internationals. Between ‘KG’ (Kagiso Rabada) and I we took 20 wickets. Morne (Morkel) was next in line. We still rely heavily on our quicks but everybody knows what their job is.”
Steyn and Rabada took 10 wickets each in the ODIs. Morkel was indeed next with seven – the same number claimed by Tahir, who had a better economy rate than Steyn.
If the pitches for the last three tests are anything like the Mohali surface, which started offering turn in the first session and never stopped, Steyn may want to take more seriously the off-spin he sometimes bowls in the nets.