TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
THAT Imran Tahir makes batsmen do strange things is not news, but now he’s also making fellow slow poisoners commit random acts.
“It’s fantastic to watch. Every time I hear he’s on I quickly try and find a television.”
That’s Paul Harris, an international spinner himself, who is “the same age as Imran, which is quite scary”.
Scary, perhaps. But not quite: Tahir, 37, is four months younger than Harris.
That said, Tahir who made his debut at the 2011 World Cup, a month after Harris wore a Protea shirt for the last time – is still at it and has become South Africa’s go-to bowler in the short formats.
In a country as speed freaked as South Africa, that’s as impressive as Tahir’s No. 1 ranking among spinners in ODIs – no mean feat considering 218 slow men of all flavours have skipped in to bowl in the 374 games played by 16 countries in the last four years alone.
Nailing down a place in the test team has proved as elusive to him as his googly is to many batsmen, but two out of three ain’t bad: Tahir was South Africa’s leading wicket-taker in T20s in 2014, in ODIs in 2015, and in both formats last year.
He has, then, been a rising force. But even in those terms he has leapt a level, conceding fewer than a run a ball in his last 13 ODIs before Saturday’s game against Sri Lanka at the Wanderers and going wicketless in only one of those matches.
What is he doing differently?
“He used to over-pitch a lot and bowl a lot of full tosses, but these days he’s a lot more consistent,” Harris said.
“I don’t remember the last time Imran Tahir bowled a bad ball.
“His leg-break has got a lot better. I don’t think he was as confident with it, say, two years ago as he is now.”
Tahir had not curbed his tendency to bowl six different deliveries an over, and he shouldn’t.
“It’s why he’s so hard to hit,” Harris said. “You’ll rarely see him, especially in T20s but even in one-dayers, bowl two balls in a row of the same pace and of the same kind.”
Let that be a lesson to all bowlers.
“Guys are mixing it up, and in that area Imran could help a lot if you got inside his head – although that could be interesting! – and understood how he thinks about the game,” Harris said.
“Seamers don’t have as many tricks as he has, but they could learn to not be monotonous.”
Seamers, however, do have weapons not available to spinners.
“We can’t bowl a bouncer,” Claude Henderson, South Africa’s spin consultant, said. “We can’t bowl fast, reverse-swinging yorkers. So we need to out-think the batsman.
“We need to understand his weaknesses, on what surfaces are certain shots more difficult.
“We don’t just think, ‘Hit line and length’. We can’t.
“It’s all about getting the odds in your favour.”
That Tahir has done well enough, and consistently enough, to hit the jackpot every time.