Champions Trophy 2017: Story of South Africa spinner Imran Tahir’s wicket run
South Africa cricket team’s Pakistan-born spinner, Imran Tahir, has one of the most unbridled wicket celebrations in world cricket, which he explains.icc champions trophy 2017 Updated: Jun 08, 2017 16:07 IST
South Africa cricket team leg spinner Imran Tahir has a few wicked deliveries in his kitty that has made him a potent threat to batsmen, and AB de Villiers’ team know their ICC Champions Trophy 2017 title hopes will depend a few of them finding their mark.
Tahir, 38, might have done all the plotting to snare his victims, but the Pakistan-born spinner says he has absolutely no control over his exuberant celebrations that follows every wicket.
The bowler, who has played just 20 Tests, had 131 wickets in 76 ODIs going into Wednesday’s clash against Pakistan. They have come at an impressive average of 23.65 and an economy rate of 4.65 with a brilliant personal best haul of 7/45.
But it is not just Tahir’s strong delivery stride that stands out. Once he has claimed a wicket, he simply scoots, with both arms raised and fists firmly clenched. As far as wicket celebrations go, they match the very best.
For South Africa pace ace Dale Steyn it is the downward fist pump that signals the display of aggression, for former Pakistan fast bowler, Shoaib Akhtar, it was a swaying run with arms held wide like an airplane’s wings.
Imran Tahir says once he claims a wicket, he has no control over his celebration. The jokes goes that but for the modern stadiums with their gates shut and guarded, the man who left Pakistan for South Africa searching for international cricket could well land outside the playing arena.
“My dream is to perform in this arena where I am today, and run around like a baby,” Imran Tahir said in an interview to the International Cricket Council website icc-cricket.com.
The unique release
Does he plan his routine in any way? “It happens when I take a wicket, and I really don’t have an answer for what I do. It’s purely what comes out at that time. I really don’t know what I do till I see it on TV.
“It’s just the passion I show and all the tough patches of my life I’ve been through (that finds expression).”
This release of energy and excitement in an international match was first seen at New Delhi’s Ferozeshah Kotla ground, where he made his South Africa debut against West Indies in the 2011 World Cup. And Tahir has endeared himself to Indian fans with his post-wicket routine in the Indian Premier League since then.
Tahir’s unique demonstration of release is understandable. As a young boy growing up in Pakistan, the Lahore-born wanted to be a fast bowler. Well, who wouldn’t want to emulate the likes of Imran Khan, Sarfaraz Nawaz, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar.
But if Sachin Tendulkar’s batting genius brought a quick halt to his pace ambitions, for Imran Tahir, it was the advice by his cousin’s friend that settled it.
“I used to bowl seam-up and play tennis ball cricket in Pakistan, but one day my cousin’s friend asked me if I can bowl leg-spin,” Tahir explained. “I asked him if I can spin the ball and he said ‘yes’ and that is when I thought of becoming a leg-spinner.
“Abdul Qadir and Mushtaq Ahmed, they were very big names in cricket that time. I just felt ‘okay, one day I want to be like them.’ It was just a thought but I think that’s how I started.”
The big move
Tahir eventually had to take the life-change decision of moving to South Africa to realize his dream of becoming an international cricketer.
“Growing up in Pakistan, every child’s parents dream of seeing their son play for their country. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen but I’m really grateful to South Africa for giving me an opportunity to fulfill my dream and where I wanted to be.
“Unfortunately, my parents passed away and couldn’t see me play for South Africa, but I’m sure they’ll be watching me from wherever they are. They would be proud of what I’ve achieved.”
The hard grind
Tahir juggled work in a shop while playing age-group cricket and is grateful to a selector, Shahid Butt for encouraging him.
“I’m really grateful to him for giving me an opportunity to play a game where I took 11 wickets. He then continued playing me.”
Tahir played first-class cricket in Pakistan, and went on to represent English counties Middlesex and Hampshire. “I came over here to England, which was a really good thing that happened in my life though it was tough. I was on a good contract for a first couple of years but after that I went to South Africa and got to play first-class cricket for Titans.”
It is not just wickets that get Imran Tahir going. On Wednesday, he got underneath a swirling hit by Mohammad Hafeez at backward square-leg off Morne Morkel and his happiness knew no bounds.
He took two tough catches, though rain saw Pakistan win by 19 runs under the Duckworth-Lewis method.