Former Proteas spinner PAT SYMCOX says Imran Tahir will be revered in the shorter formats of the game, but he may harbour regrets from his Test career.
With Cricket South Africa having announced the 16 contracted men’s players for the 2019-20 season without the name of Imran Tahir, it was not much of a surprise that the player himself revealed he would be retiring from ODI cricket after the 2019 ICC World Cup in the UK to focus on T20 leagues.
The 39-year-old leg-spinner, who was born in Pakistan and debuted for South Africa in 2011, has been quite fantastic for his adopted nation. He has been a major strike bowler for the Proteas in the shorter formats. He adds massive value in terms of his exuberance and his zest for claiming wickets.
Teams around the world have recognised Tahir as the bowler to be careful of in the middle overs, and because they watch him more carefully, it helps South Africa. He has gained respect from many batsmen around the world. Tahir must be credited for taking 158 wickets in 96 ODIs for South Africa at an average of 24.50. And when it comes to T20I cricket, Tahir has not only claimed more wickets –62 scalps – than any other spinner in South Africa, but all other local bowlers for that matter.
Tahir will head off into the sunset having enjoyed a tremendous career in the shorter formats of the game… but it is really sad that he couldn’t convert that same level of performance to the Test match arena.
Tahir played 20 Tests for South Africa from 2011 to 2015 and took 57 wickets. It was a totally different role and it was tough for him in Test cricket. When you bowl on day one or two of a Test match and the wicket doesn’t turn much, you’ve really got to have something else. You get protection on the boundaries in the shorter formats of the game, whereas in Test cricket you don’t. Bad balls go for four in Test cricket, while in the other formats bad balls sometimes go for one run.
A leg-spinner who could bowl googlies, especially to left-handers, would have been a major fillip for South Africa in Test cricket, but for one reason or another, Tahir wasn’t able to transfer his prowess.
Aside from his struggles at Test match level, Tahir is arguably the most successful South African bowler to date in the game’s shorter formats, and he has really done exceptionally well. Having debuted at the age of 33 and retiring at 39, I can relate to his longevity in the game. Tahir has been a force to be reckoned with, but eventually the constant travel and training catches up with you. Most guys in their mid-thirties fall out because it becomes really tough mentally. The fact that Tahir will only bring the curtain down on his ODI career at the age of 40 speaks to his staying power.
I’m sad he is going to be retiring, but it happens to everyone. You have to move on because your body clock is ticking and youngsters are waiting in the wings. It’s set to be a two-horse race between Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi to fill the role that Tahir is to vacate in the 50-over format when his contract expires at the end of July.
The one problem that Shamsi faces is that he can’t bat, so sometimes it falls to the guy who may not be as good a spinner, but brings something else to the party with the willow. It might go to Maharaj simply by virtue of the fact that he is a better batsman.
If you compare Paul Adams, who remains South Africa’s leading Test wicket-taker as a spinner, to the likes of myself, Nicky Boje and Robin Peterson, while Adams may have taken more wickets than us, the three of us brought more to the table from a batting front… It’s also worth mentioning that Tahir wasn’t a three-format player, and that’s one of the problems the Proteas will need to address. When you are a one or two-format player you are more likely to be nervous if you will be in the team or not, so you end up looking at other options. However, when you are a three-format player and are part and parcel of every selection, you truly feel like you belong in the set-up.
Though Tahir can’t bat, and his fielding is poor, his bowling for South Africa has always been top-notch and he has done his country proud. I believe he can play a really important part in the World Cup, and if the wickets are slow and turning in England, he can sign off in the 50-over format in style.
Photo: Shaun Roy/Gallo Images
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