It is no coincidence that Imran Tahir’s rise to the No 1 one-day international bowler’s spot has tallied with South Africa’s elevation to the top ODI team spot, writes GARY LEMKE.
So, it’s understandable that when the leg-spinner is tamed, the Proteas chances suffer. And that’s exactly what happened at Headingley in the first ODI, when Tahir went wicketless for 68 runs in nine overs and England won the match by a comfortable 72 runs. It was Tahir’s third-most expensive return in his 75 ODIs, and the only two occasions where he has gone for more than 70 (71 against England and 76 versus Sri Lanka), bowled his full 10 overs and taken two wickets in the process.
England seem to play Tahir better than most sides, and when AB de Villiers handed the South African the ball at the start of the 12th over, with the hosts on 59-1, it was a sign to many that a) the brakes were going to be applied and b) a breakthrough was imminent. That’s been the trend so many times previously.
Tahir’s first over, going for one run, confirmed that. Then his second produced just three, and after his third over his figures were 0-11. The brakes on, yes, the breakthrough, no, and his figures were excellent in the context of an innings that had reached 87-1 at a run rate of 5.80.
De Villiers then decided to wait until the start of the 27th over to bring him back, with England now on 150-3 and the dangerous Eion Morgan and Ben Stokes at the crease. Even then his return was acceptable, going for only four, but it was in his third spell that England warmed to him.
Morgan hit him for successive fours, but even after seven overs he’d conceded only 39 runs, although still wicketless. Then, Moeen Ali took to him and wrecked those figures, and De Villiers didn’t bowl out his strike bowler.
England played Tahir really well and had done their homework. It might help that they have a leg-spinner of their own in their ranks to help pick him, but perhaps most importantly, they have left-handed batsmen in their side who seem to take to him: the likes of Morgan, Stokes and Ali. It seems that Tahir is more effective against right-handers than he is against left-handers. This is something De Villiers and company will need to keep in mind as they move through this series and then the more important Champions Trophy that comes next.
For large parts of the game it appeared to be a case of the Proteas still trying to shake off the rust in their first outing in England. There were soft dismissals on both sides, although England seemed to be the more ambitious and battle-hardened in this opening skirmish.
South Africa’s bowlers were gifted some wickets by an England side that will also improve on this display, and perhaps the statistic that says it all is that JP Duminy was the most economical bowler, going for 5.66 per over.
The Proteas bowling rate was again slow, and their discipline was poor. They conceded four no-balls and seven wides, which is an extra 11 deliveries. England replied with three wides. South Africa’s bowlers were also put over the fence 12 times, while only David Miller and Kagiso Rabada were able to raise the umpires’ arms during their innings.
Both England and South Africa have long batting line-ups and both prefer chasing targets, which is why it was a good toss for De Villiers to win, so that he could put the hosts in.
The bowlers and fielding, however, resembled a middle net and then the England bowlers applied the pressure that the South Africans were unable to.
Fortunately, there’s a quick turnaround time and Saturday sees the second ODI. South Africa will produce a much improved performance and this defeat was a timely eye-opener that they have to bring their ‘A’ game to the park each time they step over those ropes.
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