TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
REMEMBER that day in Adelaide when Imran Tahir tore into the outfield in celebration thinking he had dismissed Ed Cowan only to be shamble sheepishly back to the bowling crease after discovering he had overstepped?
Remember, also, that that was only one dark moment in Tahir’s nightmare match analysis of 0/260 – still the worst figures in tests by a wicketless bowler.
You don’t remember? Possibly because that was more than three years ago and SA have played a lot of cricket since. Probably because Tahir has shown remarkable resilience of skill and spirit by re-inventing himself as a star in the shorter formats.
The leg spinner is SA’s leading current, frontline T20 bowler in terms of strike rate and average, and second in the economy rate stakes.
Only Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Wayne Parnell have taken more T20 wickets for SA than Tahir, and only Tahir, Steyn and Morkel have twice bagged four-wicket hauls.
Not bad for a spinner in an attack dominated by fast bowlers and in a format in which muscle tends to trump mind.
How has Tahir done it?
“The shorter the format the more his variations come into play,” former SA left-arm spinner Paul Harris said on Wednesday.
“In those forms of the game the more variations you have the harder it is for batsmen to line you up.
“Decent leggies are hard to hit, particularly in the T20 format where people have to come at them. In test cricket guys can sit back and wait.
“Imran does bowl the odd bad delivery and that can mean he goes for four and over. So, in tests, batsmen were happy wait – they didn’t have to attack him.
“In the ODIs and T20s guys have to take him on, especially because SA have a pretty good batting line-up. Generally sides are chasing eight or nine an over against SA or, if they’re setting a target, they think they’ve got to get eight or nine an over to beat them.
“His control in short format cricket is a lot better and he has more margin for error because he has men on the boundary.”
All of which will be put to the test in the World T20, starting in Mumbai on Friday when SA play their first match against England.
“It will be interesting to see how teams play him in this World Cup,” Harris said. “If I was the opposition I would say, ‘Let’s get six or seven an over against Imran Tahir and make sure he doesn’t pick up a wicket.”
Tahir topped the averages and the economy rates and shared the wicket-taking honours with Kyle Abbott in SA’s T20 series against England in February.
In the series against Australia that followed Tahir’s five scalps made him the joint leading wicket-taker with Kagiso Rabada and he was second in the averages. But his economy rate was fourth on the list.
“In that last T20 at Newlands Australia came out harder against him than other sides have,” Harris noted.
Tahir went for a middling 38 runs in his four overs in that game. But he rocked the Aussies by removing openers Usman Khawaja and Shane Watson in the space of four deliveries and he ran out David Warner.
Can’t keep a good bowler down, especially one hardened by adversity in Adelaide.