Embattled Tahir still part of Proteas’ Test plans, says Graeme Smith

2012-12-06 00:00

CAPE TOWN — Embattled leg-spinner Imran Tahir is still earmarked to have a role in the Proteas’ Test plans, despite his mauling by the Australians at Adelaide Oval recently.

Tahir was predictably dropped from the decisive third Test in Perth after his nought for 260 performance a game earlier, and left-arm spinner Robin Peterson’s six-wicket success at the Waca clearly gives him the inside lane for selection for the first Test against New Zealand at Newlands from January 2.

But at a post-tour media briefing along with coach Gary Kirsten at that venue yesterday, Test captain Graeme Smith said: “We are certainly not writing Imran off — he’s going to play a key part for this Test team going forward somewhere.

“Our challenge is to get his confidence back up; he has a good idea of what he needs to work on. Hopefully he’ll come back here and see a lot of success in the first-class game again.”

But he also dropped an understandably heavy hint that Peterson would keep the specialist spinner’s slot for the time being.

“I think Robin has put in a strong performance [in Perth]. The wickets that he got for us were a key factor in that game. He provides an all-rounder option as well.

“He has been around the squad for a period of time now and fought his way back into all environments. Robbie was also one of our most successful performers at the ICC World Twenty20.”

Kirsten, for his part, took the opportunity to offer encouragement to Dean Elgar, the left-handed batsman who became the first South African to record a pair on debut since tail-ender Allan Donald at Bridgetown, Barbados, in 1992.

“You can’t read anything into his [under-performance at Perth] at all. Just because he doesn’t perform in one Test match certainly doesn’t mean that he not a valuable part.

“He’s with us because he’s done exceptionally well at first-class level over a period of time and as much as we can we’ll give him a really good opportunity.”

Especially assuming that veteran all-rounder Jacques Kallis is able to bowl again soon following his hamstring injury, giving the Proteas back their fifth option on that front, there is probably a fair chance Elgar will play against the Black Caps in the New Year Test.

Judging by his words at the press conference on the team’s ability to field a No. 7 batsman, given the luxury of Kallis and wicketkeeper AB de Villiers effectively being two all-rounders in the top five, Kirsten is keen to keep the batting particularly well stocked.

“I think one could argue that that’s our X-factor at the moment … that we can pick a No. 7 batsman in our Test side.

“It certainly helped in some of our very crucial Test matches both in England and Australia. There might come a time where we need to look at it another way, but at the moment [as the XI is structured] we regard that as our X-factor.”

Kirsten also said there was a possibility of De Villiers getting some respite from the glove work during the home one-day obligations this season against New Zealand and then Pakistan.

“It hasn’t been discussed among the selectors yet. We’re having a meeting some time next week. It certainly is a possibility; his workload is pretty hectic at present.

“But he’s also kept in only six Test matches and I thought he kept outstandingly in Australia. As good as I’ve seen, so I was really encouraged by that.”

Asked whether Thami Tsolekile, who has been the reserve Test wicketkeeper on the visits to England and Australia in recent months, would get an opportunity at some stage, Kirsten said: “It’s difficult to say. I feel that our Test team is the flagship of South African cricket and it has had incredible success because we have players with a lot of experience, and a team that has great balance.

“I certainly wouldn’t want to take our results [as a current combination] lightly, though that’s not to say nobody else can play.

“Anyone can play in the Test team, but our combination at the moment is a very successful one. We come back very proud and as No. 1 side.

“We do make every effort to give guys opportunities in all forms of the game at Proteas level. We think long and hard about selections, [but] this team can stand tall about what it has achieved.”

He said trying to unearth an eventual replacement for the ageing, multi-talented Kallis was among priorities.

“Yes, we’ve got to work on that, without a doubt. Jacques is loving his cricket at the moment and is keen to keep playing so we want to encourage that.

“We’ve got to be mindful that we need to broaden our base and I’ve been encouraged by some new guys who have come in during this series.

“Without having Jacques might affect our balance in a way, but we’ll deal with that when the time comes. We’ll certainly keep the old dog on the road as long as possible!

“We need to consider [scaling down] his bowling — it was good to play in a Test match a few days ago where he has batted only — a chance to see what we could do with just three seamers, and it went exceptionally well, I thought.”

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