Imran Tahir could be the secret weapon the Proteas need at the World Cup. Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix
When Ottis Gibson name-checked everyone he’d be getting intel from about local conditions, he left out one individual who probably has intimate knowledge about more venues in England than some English players.

Gibson said this week that besides his own knowledge of England, where he worked as bowling coach with their national team, he’d gather info from Aiden Markram, just back from a stint at Hampshire, Adrian Birrell, coach at Hampshire, Dean Elgar, currently with Surrey, and a few others.

Presumably Gibson will talk to Imran Tahir as well. Tahir has played for seven counties, including stints with northern clubs like Yorkshire and Durham to Middlesex in London and Hampshire in the south. He’ll play for an eighth, Surrey, after the World Cup.

“I’ve been playing there for a long time, and that helps,” the 40-year-old leg-spinner said.

Weather forecasts have predicted a warm and dry summer for England, much like last year, when Tahir was ripping leggies and googlies for Durham in the English T20 competition. “If you get a summer like last year, it will definitely help the spinners.”

Might that mean South Africa pairing Tahir with left-arm wrist-spinner Tabraiz Shamsi? It’s a combination that’s only played together three times since Gibson became Proteas coach.

Still if conditions dictate that to be the case, then in spite of Gibson’s fondness for unleashing all the quicks, it’s comforting knowing South Africa can call on two attacking wrist-spinners.

In many respects, Tahir is owed a debt by South African cricket for opening its eyes to spin, and the fact that it was a form of bowling that need not only be used to tie up an end.

When he made his debut at the World Cup in 2011 against the West Indies, Tahir was one of three spinners in the Proteas starting XI, alongside Johan Botha and Robin Peterson.

“When I joined, South Africa weren’t sure if they could play a spinner, even in the subcontinent we weren’t sure if we’d play two or one, whereas every modern day team has two spinners - and definitely one,” he explained.

No longer is the task just to block an end and concede just a run a ball. Faf du Plessis wants Tahir to continue to be a wicket-taking threat, like he was for Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers at the last two World Cups. Tahir is the third highest wicket taker for South Africa in the World Cup, his 29 wickets placing him behind Shaun Pollock (31) and Allan Donald (38) although his strike rate (average balls bowled per wicket) is the best for any South African bowler in the competition - 23.9.

“I consider myself very lucky. When I started, I’d heard that in the middle overs South Africa didn’t do well, but even I needed Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. Now, there’s Kagiso Rabada, Andile Phehlukwayo and Lungi Ngidi, that makes my job easier, because they bowl 145km/h and I can’t and so batsmen feel they have to be aggressive against me.”

Not all Tahir’s 162 ODI wickets have been the result of impatient batsmen. He’s got variety, from leg-breaks, to googlies and a top-spinner with various speeds, making him a handful.

“I’ll be honest I don’t look to attack, I look to contain, in my first few overs I’m trying not to go for a boundary but then because of my variation, I take wickets, so I play that card.”

Whether Tahir and Shamsi are paired will be determined by conditions and the opposition.

It’s unlikely they’ll play in the same team against one of the sub-continent sides, but it’s an extra string to South Africa’s bow. And even if they don’t then Tahir  for whom the World Cup is a swansong  is still capable of being a threat on his own.

@shockerhess


Saturday Star

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