EXCLUSIVE: Imran Tahir still wants to wear the Proteas’ badge
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CAPE TOWN - Imran Tahir may be fast approaching his 42nd birthday, but the charismatic leg-spinner has not given up hope on pulling on his beloved Proteas jumper again.
Tahir, who retired from 50-overs international cricket after the 2019 World Cup in the United Kingdom but is still eligible for T20I selection, is particularly keen to play for his adopted country on the soil of his birth next month.
The Proteas are due to tour Pakistan for the first time in 14 years where they are set to play a two-match Test series and three T20Is against the former short-format world champions.
Born in Lahore, Tahir only became eligible for the Proteas in 2011 after the gun attacks on the Sri Lankan cricket team's bus in 2009 and therefore only faced his former compatriots in the neutral venues of the United Arab Emirates whenever Pakistan hosted South Africa.
Tahir currently resides in Dubai and was this week, once again, signed by the Multan Sultans to play in the Pakistan Super League set to be staged in Lahore and Karachi from February 20 to March 22.
The third and final T20I between Pakistan and South Africa is scheduled for February 14.
“I am available (to play for the Proteas),” Tahir told IOL Sport exclusively from the UAE.
“It is up to them (Cricket SA) to make the decision. I still feel like I can play for South Africa within me. That is more important than anything. I want to play in the World Cup and one or two series before then.
“I was hoping to be part of that (Pakistan) tour, but it looks like they don't need me anymore.
“It has been a bit strange to be honest with you. I don't want to make a thing about it. I am happy playing all over the world. Alhamdulillah (praise be to God).”
Tahir was recently named in the ICC ODI Team of the Decade along with fellow retired Proteas superstar AB de Villiers. They were the only South Africans named in the XI.
Tahir is also the Proteas' second highest T20I wicket-taker with 61 scalps at an average of 14.08 and economy rate of 6.56.
Coupled with his equally impressive 173 ODI wickets at 24.83 and the veteran is easily South Africa's most accomplished white-ball spinner ever.
Newly-installed national convenor of selectors Victor Mpitsang claims Tahir remains part of the Proteas' T20I plans despite him being overlooked for the recent England series last year.
“I am obviously new to the job and I've had various conversations with the relevant stakeholders regarding players like Immy, Chris Morris and also Dale Steyn,” said Mpitsang, who admitted that Tahir has made contact with him.
“They were all part of the 2019 World Cup squad but are no longer nationally contracted.
“I need to understand how they still fit into our system. Ideally we would like to see them play domestic cricket within our structures for them to be selected on the basis of form showed in those competitions.”
Covid-19 has severely disrupted CSA's domestic competitions with the 4-day first-class tournament only getting underway in November before the final round of fixtures for 2020 were postponed to a high number of infections among the players.
The 1-Day Cup, meanwhile, has been transferred to a bio-secure environment in Potchefstroom this week with all the matches being played at Senwes Park, while the Mzansi Super League was also postponed.
Tahir, meanwhile, has already played in the Indian Premier League in the UAE, the Caribbean Premier League and the Pakistan Super League during this period before opting out of the Big Bash in Australia for “personal reasons”.
Cricket SA are due to name the Proteas T20I squad for Pakistan later this week with the spinners expected to be Tabraiz Shamsi, George Linde and Bjorn Fortuin.