With the South Africa crest on his shirt, the Pakistan-born spinner and journeyman is at home in his adopted country, writes Paul Radley.
Time for Imran Tahir to beat his chest
DUBAI // According to one biography on a respected cricket website, Imran Tahir has played for 27 major teams.
Which, until yesterday, was precisely one more than his aggregate of Test match wickets.
It may be stretching a point to suggest the likes of Durham’s second XI and the Water and Development Authority actually constitute major teams.
But one thing is unquestionable: South Africa’s leading spinner has had a good look round before reaching the top.
A journeyman? You could say so. He has had nearly as many flights as Dubai International Airport Terminal 3.
But a restless spirit whose nomadic existence indicates he has never really settled anywhere? Not likely, judging by his reaction when, on the stroke of lunch, Adnan Akmal became his third victim and Pakistan’s sixth.
Tahir went charging off towards the boundary in a state of ecstasy, and ended up celebrating in front of an empty stand. If it had been a 100 metres race against his teammates, he would have lapped them.
This was proper jubilation: Monty Panesar’s reaction to his debut dismissal of Sachin Tendulkar in Nagpur all those years ago looked sedate by comparison.
Then he beat his chest and kissed the Proteas crest on his shirt. So what if he had played for Pakistan’s Under 19 side and their A team in the past? His current allegiance is clear.
The fact Tahir had managed his first Test match five-wicket haul while playing in Dubai seems a neat fit. This series is only happening here out of necessity, because Pakistan need somewhere to play.
A home away from home.
Nationality does not mean what it used to. Sometimes you just have to go elsewhere to get a game – whether it be individuals like Tahir, or whole national teams like Pakistan.
“I think I am more South African than Pakistani now,” he said.
“I am really honoured to be playing for South Africa. I appreciate what I have got from South Africa and I will always remember that till the day I die. The country will never be forgotten from my heart.
“It is a great opportunity I have to represent South Africa and play for the No 1 team in the world. That is more important to me than anything else.”
Tahir had earned his moment in the sun, not just because of the air miles he has amassed, but because of the travails he has faced since he got his chance in international cricket.
Last time out, for instance, he took a fearful hammering. In the one Test in which he was risked on the tour of Australia last winter, he managed match figures of none for 260 in 37 overs. It was a horror show.
He betrayed signs of frail confidence in his previous outing on this tour, too.
On an unresponsive deck at Sharjah in the warm-up match, his chin dropped lower with each full toss, and with each boundary hit.
Given the prevailing form, it was a risk for South Africa to give him another go here. But he had impressed in the nets since last week, and the Proteas needed to force the issue in pursuit of a series-halving win.
Accepted wisdom suggests that a wrist-spinner like Tahir would be the more attacking choice than the finger-spinner he replaced, Robin Peterson.
The selection hunch paid immediate dividends as Tahir, with an adroit mix of googlies and conventional leg-breaks, picked up five.
It was the first time a South African spinner had managed such a haul in the first innings of a Test since Paul Adams did against Bangladesh in 2003.
“Never,” Tahir said, when asked if he had had any doubts that he would be able to play at this level again after Australia.
“I’ll be really honest with you – I had a great time in Australia apart from the Test match.
“After that I had to work out how I needed to play to be in the international arena. I went back, played a domestic season, trained really hard. Luckily enough I had the opportunity and I am just really happy.”
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