Imran Tahir signs off on his illustrious career against Australia as the country’s long-time No 1 spinner. Here, our staff reflects on some of his most memorable moments in our Lessons from Tahir.
Dale’s forewarning – Gary Lemke
Dale Steyn warned the universe about Imran Tahir ahead of the 2011 World Cup, where the leg-spinner made his ODI debut for South Africa a month before his 32nd birthday.
‘I played with him at the Titans but hardly ever alongside him, but when I batted against him he got me out about 14 times in 10 minutes. I’m not saying I’m the world’s best batsman, but I was bamboozled all the time,’ Steyn said ahead of the Proteas’ opener against West Indies.
While AB de Villiers earned Man of the Match honours, after a brilliant 107, Tahir proved Steyn’s words were on the mark, taking 4-41 in 10 overs. He then claimed 3-19 (vs Netherlands), 4-38 (vs England), 1-20 (vs Bangladesh) and 2-32 (vs New Zealand).
People started taking notice and when the Proteas landed in Australia for their Test series at the end of 2012, the Aussies were on red alert. They engaged the services of unknown club cricketer Fawad Ahmed to bowl in the nets to prepare for Tahir’s mystery. Ahmed was at the time a refugee from Pakistan seeking political asylum in Australia. Tahir had arrived.
A man for all seasons, all stats and all celebrations – Craig Lewis
The fact of the matter is that Tahir will leave a massive void in the Proteas’ limited-overs set-up. Against Pakistan, his stunning caught-and-bowled to send Imam-ul-Haq packing took him to 39 World Cup wickets – the most by any South African. Let that sink in.
And when picking through the bones of the Proteas’ World Cup 2019 graveyard of statistics, it is Tahir who again stands head and shoulders above the rest. Eight matches played, 10 wickets taken (with a best of 4-29), an average of 31.50 and an economy of 4.70.
When it comes to Tahir, it’s never been just about his variety of deliveries, and that beautifully disguised googly. It’s also been about the personality of the man in a world of sport that has become all too dull.
Made me believe again – Wade Pretorius
Sport is a cruel game. It barely ever offers its heroes their perfect send-off. It can also, sometimes, even end careers before they begin. Imran Tahir fits into both. In fact, he’s probably the one Protea that shouldn’t have been and the hero we needed but never deserved.
Born 27 March 1979 in Lahore, Punjab. How he was overlooked by Pakistan is one of the game’s greatest mysteries. By 2011, he had accumulated 530 first-class wickets in 127 matches and was ‘only’ selected for Pakistan A. Domestic cricketers feared him because they couldn’t read him.
Finally, at 31 he was granted South African citizenship. For all the talent that has left our shores, we were on the other side. Tahir was a South African. He is a South African. Few, if any, have gone on to represent the country with such passion. Few spinners, if any, have been able to take wickets like he has. Few, if any, have the variation that he has.
Trying to pick one single memory above the rest is a ridiculous task. It’s impossible to put one match, one spell, one magnificent celebration above the others.
Tahir’s passion for his craft, his team and his nation … in a cynical world … should be admired. And possibly taught in universities. But sport is a cruel game, his final act will be 10 overs against Australia with no playoff game the week after to twist and turn once more. 60 balls to sit in anticipation of one or two more wild celebrations.
No magical send-off but he won’t mind.
Courage and control under fire – Jon Cardinelli
The South African cricket team won’t be remembered for their mettle and determination at ICC tournaments. No Proteas side has won a World Cup and only one team – the class of 2015 – has managed to win a playoff game in 27 years.
Batsmen have played rash strokes in pressure situations. Bowlers have missed their lengths at the end of close contests. More recently, the fielding unit has failed to show the energy and intensity one would associate with a national team.
Imran Tahir has so often been the exception. The stats tell a story of a player who has stood tall for the Proteas in the big matches.
The leg-spinner took 2-32 to help the Proteas limit New Zealand to 221-8 in the 2011 World Cup quarter-final in Dhaka. Unfortunately, the batsmen did not replicate the effort of the bowlers and South Africa were knocked out of the tournament.
Four years later, Tahir took 4-26 as South Africa dismissed Sri Lanka for 133 in the World Cup quarter-final in Sydney. The Proteas went on to win the game by nine wickets and Tahir was named Man of the Match.
Could Tahir have given more to the Proteas’ cause in 2019? The stats suggest not. Tahir has taken the second-most wickets (10) and has kept things tidy with an economy rate of 4.70.
The ageing star has been a beacon of light during a dark time for South Africa. That trademark energy and enthusiasm have unfortunately not been replicated by his teammates.
Indeed, one has to wonder how the Proteas may have fared in this World Cup campaign – their worst ever – if Tahir was not in tow.
Passion and precision – John Goliath
I don’t really have one specific wicket or moment in Imran Tahir’s ODI career that I will fondly look back on.
But in between a plethora of quality leg-spin deliveries and even more googlies, which he delivered with so much accuracy and precision, it’s his passion for his adopted country and the way that he played the game that warms the cockles of my heart.
The Pakistan-born Tahir’s celebratory runs after taking a wicket are iconic, while he has probably bowled more players through the gate with the ‘wrong-un’ over the last decade than any other spinner around the world.
However, it’s the way he left everything out on the field for the Proteas that will stick with me forever. It’s the way he kissed the badge before beating his chest after taking a wicket that is going to make me smile long after he sends down his last delivery.
He always gave his best and seldom let the team down. A go-to guy in a crisis. The man who makes things happen.
He’s also a great role model and there are many videos of him helping out fellow spinners – in his own team and the opposition. He also reinvented the way captains use leg-spinners in ODI cricket as wicket-taking options.
Immy Bhai will be remembered as a legend of South African cricket.