The Proteas’ World Cup woes should not overshadow a much-needed grand farewell for the one-of-a-kind Imran Tahir, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
On Sunday, despite the fact that the Proteas would ultimately go on to crash out of the World Cup with a defeat by Pakistan, Tahir still managed to bring a smile to the faces of tortured Proteas supporters as he delivered a dazzling bowling display.
In fact, from the moment he struck with the second ball of the Proteas’ World Cup campaign and went sprinting away on a trademark celebration run, he has been one of the few bright sparks for the embattled South Africans in England.
And so it’s been throughout his 105-ODI career. At 40 years of age, Tahir is the oldest player at this World Cup, but don’t let that fool you. The veteran spinner still has the passion and enthusiasm to put most youngsters to shame.
What’s almost been forgotten amid all the backlash to the Proteas’ World Cup failure is the fact that Tahir is about to bow out of the game. Just two more pool games for the Proteas remain, and then their talismanic slow bowler will be hanging up his boots.
The stalwart recently said that he felt capable of continuing to play the game despite his ‘middle age’, but such is the character of the man that he would rather now begin to work with the younger generation of spinners, and allow them to find their way on to the international scene.
In this regard, the first name that comes to mind is 29-year-old Tabraiz Shamsi, who has already been banking plenty of intellectual property under the tutelage of Tahir.
Yet, the fact of the matter is that Tahir will leave a massive void in the Proteas’ limited-overs set-up. On Sunday, his stunning caught-and-bowled to send Imam-ul-Haq packing took him to 39 World Cup wickets – the most by any South African.
And when picking through the bones of the Proteas’ World Cup graveyard of statistics, it is Tahir who stands head and shoulders above the rest. Seven matches played, 10 wickets taken (with a best of 4-29), an average of 27.90 and an economy of 4.89.
Across an ODI career of 105 matches, there is even more to celebrate: 172 wickets (best of 7-45), an average of 24.43 and an economy of 4.64. He is one of a kind!
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.
To retain and attract the interest of fans, we need more players like Tahir: a once-in-a-generation player with a celebration for the ages, who will inspire many more to come.
At this World Cup, the Protea fire may have been extinguished, but for Tahir, it has continued to burn as bright as ever.
And for a moment, let’s forget everything else, and take the time to enjoy every last ball he delivers before heading into well-deserved retirement from a sport that he so passionately enjoyed with every fibre of his being.
After all, he will be sorely missed!
Photo: Alex Davidson/Getty Images