It was another day, and yet more worry for Imran Tahir yesterday, as South Africa’s premier spinner was again put to the sword by the home batsmen, who seem determined to make his life a misery.
There is a growing school of thought that is adamant the Proteas have to sacrifice the unpredictable Tahir for someone like Dane Piedt, who may not have the Bakers Choice Assorted that the leggie flogs, but whose humble bread and butter always hits the right spot.
Yesterday, Tahir’s mixed bag infuriated much more than it titillated. Before lunch, when the Proteas sniffed a chance with two early wickets, he was brought on after an hour. He started with a maiden, raising hopes that he had turned the long, slow-turning corner he had found in Galle.
But, then the Lankans decided to go hard at him and JP Duminy. The latter did poach two wickets for his troubles, but Tahir only had a handful of ‘ifs’ and ‘maybes’, ending the day with a barren 24 overs, which leaked 92 runs.
The Proteas needed Tahir, or Duminy – who has performed the role more and more lately – to keep up the pressure after an encouraging first hour.
“When you have three seamers, you are looking for someone to just stop the game. But that 11 over spell, when we conceded about 70 runs saw the momentum swing to them,” Allan Donald conceded.
“It wasn’t so much that they bowled badly, but the runs flowed too easily. Even the ones and twos couldn’t be stopped.”
Silva (44) and Jayawardene added 99, at a canter, before the luncheon interval. At one point, the innings scoring rate shot towards five runs an over, and the tourists couldn’t stop the bleeding.
Silva explained that the Sri Lankans know that Tahir will give scoring opportunities, even as he sends down wicket-taking rippers. When he coughed up two full-tosses in a row to the little opener, both disappeared to the fence.
“Most of the runs we scored off him were from loose balls. So our plan was to make sure that we always score from those chances, because then we don’t get bogged down,” he explained.
The problem for Tahir, and his captain, is that those loose balls are a little too frequent for this form of the game.
And even when he does land a genuine leggie, it can also disappear, as Mahela Jayawardene effortlessly showed when he hammered a perfectly fine ball over his head for six.
“You never know what goes on in a spinner’s head when a wicket not turning, but that’s why we have Claude Henderson,” Donald puffed.
“I did think Immy got better as the day went on, and he is always searching for wickets. He’s got another chance (today) to hopefully turn things around.”
Today, perhaps, Tahir will find the delectable recipe that served him so well in the ODI series. Failing that, the tourists may have to go back to humble, but consistent bread and butter.