Imran Tahir receives the ball as he prepares to bowl during second ODI match between South Africa and Sri Lanka at Centurion. Photo: AP Photo/Themba Hadebe
Imran Tahir receives the ball as he prepares to bowl during second ODI match between South Africa and Sri Lanka at Centurion. Photo: AP Photo/Themba Hadebe
IOL Sport cricket writer Stuart Hess.
IOL Sport cricket writer Stuart Hess.

JOHANNESBURG – Imran Tahir was first selected for South Africa for the 2011 ODI series against India.

It was a five-match series that South Africa only just managed to win thanks to a couple of interventions from Messrs Duckworth/Lewis.

Tahir didn’t play a game. He was being “hidden” for the World Cup which was to follow a few weeks later.

At the time I thought it was silly. Really, hiding a player? It’s the 21st century. And Tahir had already played for 20 different teams in various countries at that point.

Somewhere, someone would have footage, and if they didn’t, they could have sourced it from SuperSport, which had been broadcasting Tahir’s many triumphant spells for the Titans at that point.

South Africa took Tahir to the 2011 World Cup, without having capped him. That team, led by Graeme Smith and coach Corrie van Zyl, then got really funky.

They picked Tahir as one of three spinners for the opening game of the tournament.

Thinking about it now, and in the current era where they pick all the fast bowlers all the time, 2011 almost seems otherworldly.

It truly was a different time.

Johan Botha opened the bowling against the West Indies in South Africa’s first game at the World Cup in 2011 and took the Chris Gayle’s wicket with the third ball of the game.

Tahir didn’t bowl until the 14th over, and got through two overs before being whipped off. He took his first wicket with the third ball of his second spell, took his second with the seventh ball of that spell. He was also warned for running on the pitch.

Two more wickets followed and he finished his first outing in Protea green with figures that read: 10-1-41-4.

Everything about Tahir and the bowler he would go onto become for South Africa over the next few years - especially in the limited overs formats - was encapsulated in that performance, including the exuberant celebrations.

Tahir had a superb World Cup, as did all three of the spinners. Robin Peterson finished as South Africa’s leading wicket-taker with 15, while Tahir finished the tournament, despite missing two matches with a fractured bone in his left hand, with 14.

Imran Tahir celebrates the wicket of Thisara Perera of Sri Lanka during the ODI match between South Africa and Sri Lanka at Supersport Park. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix
Imran Tahir celebrates the wicket of Thisara Perera of Sri Lanka during the ODI match between South Africa and Sri Lanka at Supersport Park. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Tahir transformed South Africa’s One-Day team.

Spinners weren’t just there to change the pace of the game or to block an end any more, but to attack. They could be and he was (and still is) a wicket-taker.

No more boring middle overs, with Tahir South Africa could keep taking wickets.

That ability still profoundly affects the thinking and strategy ahead of the 2019 World Cup, which Tahir announced last Sunday would be the last time he’d play One-Day cricket for his adopted nation.

From that first game in the green and gold he’s always expressed how grateful he is to South Africa for the opportunities it has provided in allowing him to play at international level.

In return South Africa has embraced Tahir, joining him in his joy every time he takes a wicket.

He has been and will continue to be a great ambassador for the Proteas.

@shockerhess



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