Not many cricketers have turned out for 29 different teams in five countries and been capped by three counties, but Pakistan-born Imran Tahir isn’t like many cricketers. In the first place, he came to South Africa not to play cricket but to be with the woman who is now his wife. And he did so when the country’s captains tended to regard spin bowling as an evil that probably wasn’t necessary except, perhaps, to squeeze in an extra over before tea.
But South African captains and batsmen had also never before seen a spinning strike bowler, and in January 2010 Tahir was picked for the Test series against England. Except that someone hadn’t done their homework and it was discovered that he wasn’t a South African citizen and was thus ineligible. That had been sorted out by the 2011 World Cup, where Tahir’s 14 scalps made him South Africa’s second-highest wicket-taker.
His Test debut, against Australia at Newlands in November 2011, proved a portent for his career path. Tahir bowled only 10 overs in the first innings and none in the second — which was all over in 18 overs, seven of them bowled by fellow debutant Vernon Philander, who took 5/15 to help rout the Australians for 47 in dream swing bowling conditions.
Tahir is an invariably furiously busy person on the field, and he struggled to cultivate the patience required to succeed in the slowest format. His serious pretensions to being South Africa’s go-to Test spinner ended in Perth in November 2012 when he endured match figures of 0/260, the most expensive yet recorded, and suffered the indignity of having Ed Cowan caught off what turned out to be a no-ball. He has since played nine more Tests — eight in sub-continent conditions and the other at St George’s Park, South Africa’s slowest surface.
No such limitations have had to be applied to his white-ball career. He is unquestionably South Africa’s first-choice spinner and was again their second-most successful bowler at the 2015 World Cup, despite the less favourable Australasian conditions.
Although capable of a range of wrist spinner’s deliveries, the sharpest tool in his shed is his googly — which he bowls more often than the rest, and which turns more acutely.