South Africa's Imran Tahir (C) celebrates with team mates after taking the wicket of Sri Lanka's Asela Gunaratne . Photo: Reuters / Peter Cziborra

“Imran Tahir is our greatest asset in ODI cricket,” says former Proteas captain Graeme Smith.

Writing his latest column for official ICC website, Smith hailed the Tahir’s performance after the World’s No 2-ranked ODI bowler claimed 4/27 off 8.3 overs to power South Africa to convincing 96-run victory over Sri Lanka in the ICC Champions Trophy Group B opener at The Oval on Saturday.

The Proteas had set the Sri Lankans 300 for victory after Hashim Amla’s 103 and Faf du Plessis’s 79. However, the former champions raced to 90/1 after 10 overs before Tahir’s introduction into the attack.

A brilliant AB de Villiers run-out ensued from the second ball of Tahir’s first over before the leg-spinner struck again two balls later. The match just seems to speed up when Tahir comes into the game, with action from virtually every ball.

“Imran is our greatest asset in ODI cricket. He’s performed so consistently, and is undoubtedly now the best short form spinner in the world,” Smith said.

“Against Sri Lanka, he bowled skilfully to both right and left handers and he bowls so few bad balls. For AB, that means he can often afford an extra fielder in the inner circle, enabling the team to create more pressure by preventing singles.”

The control Tahir gives De Villiers and South Africa during those middle overs are a significant advantage, especially with the opposing teams seemingly loathe picking their leg-spinners at the moment. Despite winning their first game against Bangladesh, England surprisingly left Adil Rashid out of their starting line-up. Rashid had played 41 out of England’s 44 ODI’s since the last World Cup.

Equally, Australia opted for an all-pace attack, with only Glenn Maxwell's part-time off-spin the slow-bowling option, against New Zealand in their washed-out opener against New Zealand at Edgbaston.

“It appears to be a theme both in this tournament and in world cricket generally, however, that captains are becoming increasingly wary of picking their spinners for one-day cricket,” Smith said.

“We saw Eoin Morgan choose to leave Adil Rashid out of the side, having played him for a long period of time. Steve Smith also seems reluctant to pick Adam Zampa, and I think there’s an issue with captains’ understanding of how to allow spinners to play an important role and bring them in to the one-day game.

“It’s clear to me that South Africa has worked on specific plans as a bowling unit. That requires both intelligent and brave leadership, as well as the bowlers to execute those plans.”

Smith also had praise for Amla’s timely return to form, but was particularly pleased with Du Plessis’s contribution to the victory.

“Faf is the key cog in the South African batting line up. The way he goes about his game with such intent gives the innings momentum, and I thought he batted beautifully in game one,” Smith explained.

“Both he and Hash did well to assess the conditions, in that upping the rate on that surface wasn’t particularly easy. What Faf did fantastically was to take scoring pressure of Hashim and just allow him to bat.”

Independent Media

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