While South Africans have been worried about the fitness of their star fast bowlers Dale Steyn and Kagiso Rabada ahead of the World Cup in England, JOHN GOLIATH is more concerned about the well-being of the Proteas’ 40-year-old leg-spinner Imran Tahir.
The bat is going to dominate cricket’s showpiece tournament if the ridiculous scoring in the current One-Day International series between England and Pakistan are anything to go by.
There has been some absurdly good batting, with both teams scoring over 350 runs in the last two matches. After the first ODI was abandoned because of rain, Pakistan fell 12 runs short of England’s 373-3 in Southampton, before the home team chased down a mammoth 358 in the third match – with 31 balls to spare!
Fast bowlers were expected to play a massive part in this World Cup because of the anticipated seamer-friendly conditions in the early summer of the United Kingdom. But the pitches in the second and third ODIs hardly had any swing through the air or movement off the deck. As a result, the faster bowlers have struggled to contain the opposition’s flashing blades.
It could be a sign of what’s to come when the World Cup starts on 30 May. Teams are likely to go hard in the powerplay if there’s no swing and then look to tee off in the last 10 to 15 overs with wickets in hand to reach the 300-run mark, which may not even be par if England’s outstanding form with the bat is anything to go by.
‘England can be interesting, depending on the weather. They are forecasting a hot spell coming up in the next couple of months. Perhaps the pitches will be a lot drier,’ Proteas coach Ottis Gibson told the media this week.
‘There have been big scores in England of late. Whether it will be a high-scoring tournament, the weather will play a big part in that.’
Early wickets with the new ball will always be key to try and stop the opposition from gaining momentum. But with most teams’ ability to score big in final overs, taking wickets in the middle period could be even more important. Not allowing big hitters such as England’s Jos Buttler time to play themselves in before teeing off could be the difference between chasing 280 or 380.
This is why the Proteas should carefully manage their ace leg-spinner Imran Tahir over the next few weeks, following a gruelling campaign in the Indian Premier League. The accurate Pakistan-born spinner ended the IPL with the most wickets, collecting 26 scalps in 17 matches for the Chennai Super Kings, who lost in Sunday’s final Mumbai Indians.
This will be Tahir’s third World Cup, and his experience of bowling in the middle overs and taking wickets will be massive if the Proteas are to win their first World Cup.
In his first World Cup tournament, he claimed 14 wickets on the subcontinent, while he managed 15 wickets at an average of 21.23 and an economy rate of 4.23 in 2015 in Australia in New Zealand.
But Tahir is arguably a more rounded bowler in 2019 than in the previous two editions of the tournament. The old dog is heading to England with a couple of new tricks.
Over the last year he has developed and improved the quality of his leg-spinner, and has managed to get it on the same level as his venomous googly. In the past he’s never quite got the same purchase with the delivery spinning away from the right-hander, but now he is turning it square. Add to that his famous googly and slider, and Tahir could be in for a big tournament.
South Africa’s quicks will have a massive role to play, but Tahir could be Gibson’s gun bowler, especially if the pitches play the way they have been in England over the last few weeks.
But for now he needs a bit of a break following the IPL. The Proteas need him to be fresh for his trademark celebration runs to the boundary.
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