First it was Quinton de Kock who reached 1 000 ODI runs in the same number of innings (21) as Sir Viv Richards, Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott and now Imran Tahir has also leapt to the top of an exclusive ODI list.
It may not last, but he’ll surely enjoy the view. When Tahir bowled his first ball in the Triangular series match against Australia on Tuesday he found himself on the summit of the list of averages for those who have delivered more than 1 000 balls in ODI cricket, coming in his 21st match for the Proteas. The leg-spinner, born in Pakistan but who has made South Africa his home, claimed the wicket of Steve Smith for 36 in Harare. It was Tahir’s 41st ODI scalp and his average of 18.41 sets him right on top of the pile for those who have bowled over 1 000 deliveries. (He has sent down 1060).
Like De Kock, he’s in great company. West Indian Joel Garner (146 wickets) is second with an average of 18.84, followed by Australia’s Ryan Harris (44 wickets at 18.90). Another West Indian in Andy Gray (44 wickets at 18.97) is fourth and England’s Mike Hendrick (35 wickets at 19.45) comes next.
The only other South African in the all-time top 20 is Allan Donald, who claimed 272 ODI wickets at 21.78.
Tahir made his ODI debut in the 2011 ICC World Cup and later that year he was elevated into the Test team with a debut against Australia at Newlands.
He has made 15 Test appearances, although the statistics don’t make for overly impressive reading. In those matches he’s claimed 40 wickets at an unflattering average of 47.17. A truckload of people reckon he’s ‘better than his averages say’, but another camp will say ‘averages don’t lie’. In the recent one-off Test against Zimbabwe Tahir made way for Dane Piedt.
The Cape Cobras off-spinner grabbed the opportunity with both hands in a man of the match performance 8-152. That suggested we might have seen the last of Tahir at Test level, although the excitable leg-spinner continues to be successful in the ODI arena.
He picked up his wicket in the most recent match against Zimbabwe on Tuesday by flighting the ball juicily up to the bat, drawing Smith into the drive and getting the ball to deviate just enough to take the outside edge, with De Kock holding onto the catch behind.
While Tahir’s halo in the Test arena has shifted, he has become an integral member of the limited-overs units. Before the last T20 World Cup, Proteas captain Faf du Plessis said: ‘Imi is very important to me. He’s as big a strike bowler as a Dale Steyn is to our team. He’s a game changer and I also understand what comes with that. Imran is never a guy that needs to bowl and keep the run rate down for you. He’s a wicket-taker and you need to get the best out of him, bowl him in situations where we are looking to get wickets.’
So far in the Triangular tournament in Zimbabwe, Tahir has taken four wickets and also helped put together an invaluable, some say match-winning, 10th wicket partnership with Aaron Phangiso against the hosts in a low-scoring match last week.
Not bad for a man who is to cricket what Lee Chapman was to football. Chapman played for 15 different clubs from 1978 to 1996, but so far – as cricinfo.com highlight – Tahir has represented (in alphabetical order): South Africa, Delhi Daredevils, Dolphins, Durham 2nd XI, Easterns, Hampshire, Hampshire 2nd XI, Lahore City, Lahore Lions, Lahore Ravi, Lahore Whites, Lions, Middlesex, Middlesex 2nd XI, Pakistan A, Pakistan International Airlines, Pakistan Under-19s, Redco Pakistan Ltd, Sialkot, South Africa A, Staffordshire, Sui Gas Corporation of Pakistan, Sussex 2nd XI, Titans, Warwickshire, Warwickshire 2nd XI, Water and Power Development Authority and Yorkshire.