Tahir: Up among best T20 spinners

Imran Tahir (AFP)
Imran Tahir (AFP)

Cape Town – He may have played a lot fewer matches than most, but Imran Tahir only stiffens his claims statistically to be considered one of the most effective Twenty20 spinners in the format’s relatively short history.

Tahir was on song again on Sunday as South Africa pulverised England in the second KFC T20 international at the Wanderers for a 2-0 mini-series sweep, and ended as the joint-highest wicket-taker across the two sides with five, alongside compatriot Kyle Abbott.

But Tahir’s average (9.20) and economy rate (5.75) were superior and he landed the player-of-the-series award, helped by his career best-equalling haul of 4/21 at Newlands on Friday.

The exuberant character has now claimed 32 scalps in just 20 T20 internationals and is only six shy of eclipsing Johan Botha – primarily based in Australia these days – as South Africa’s leading wicket-taking spinner in the arena.

Botha achieved his 37 wickets in exactly double (40) the number of games Tahir has played for the Proteas, which gives you an idea of just how prolific the latter is in dismissals terms.

Whereas off-spinner Botha, albeit a trustier contributor with the bat and in the field, averages 22.24 and sports a strike rate of 20.9, Tahir’s average is 14.75 and the leg-spinner strikes at 13.8. Their economy rates are currently absolutely identical at 6.37.

But Tahir is also right up there with the very finest T20 “tweakers” across the world, based on figures.

For instance, veteran Pakistani googly exponent Shahid Afridi is the top wicket-taker in T20 international history for all forms of bowlers with 91 from a massive 90 appearances since 2006, but Tahir cleans him up for both average (Afridi’s is 23.90) and strike rate (Afridi 21.7).

Here are the statistics for the next four highest T20 wicket-takers among spinners:

*Saeed Ajmal (Pakistan, 64 matches): 85 wickets at 17.83; economy 6.36, strike rate 16.8

*Ajantha Mendis (Sri Lanka, 39 matches): 66 wickets at 14.42; economy 6.45, strike rate 13.4

*Nathan McCullum (NZ, 61 matches): 55 wickets at 22.85; economy 6.90, strike rate 19.8

*Graeme Swann (Eng, 39 matches): 51 wickets at 16.84; economy 6.36, strike rate 15.8.

Lahore-born Tahir is obviously done no favours either for volume of appearances or wickets taken by the fact that he only qualified for South Africa at the end of 2010, and although he made both Test and ODI debuts in 2011, was only capped for the first time at T20 level in August 2013.

How Tahir, 36, would compare with any of the others listed above in the scalps column if he had been able to represent the Proteas several years earlier can only be imagined, sadly, although the stats clearly show he is right up among any of them for effectiveness in the game’s shortest landscape.

What the longer-term future is for Tahir in South Africa’s limited-overs plans – he has probably already finished his Test career – remains unclear after the looming ICC World Twenty20, although he may take some heart from the fact that someone like Australia’s left-arm spinner Brad Hogg was still playing T20 internationals at the ripe old age of 43.

Certainly at the moment, Tahir is pretty close to an undroppable element of the SA arsenal with his almost unfailing ability to strike in the key middle overs of an innings ...

 *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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