Tahir confirms he’s tough

Imran Tahir (AFP)
Imran Tahir (AFP)
Cape Town - South Africa had an already known, mentally-sturdy character at the crease as they ended a dominant day one of the second Test against Pakistan in Dubai.

Pak v SA Day 1 as it happened

Captain and ace scrapper Graeme Smith was reassuringly unbeaten on 67, doggedness eclipsing quality of stroke-play on a difficult, dry and abrasive surface – some experts a little scarily already regard it as having more in common with early third-day characteristics.

The Proteas being 29 runs to the good with seven wickets in hand in their first innings, after routing the fickle Pakistanis for 99, represented pretty close to the perfect start for a team desperate to square up the short series and only underline their No 1 ranking in the world.

With Hashim Amla absent and Jacques Kallis unusually failing again – he’s got 12 runs from three knocks in the series – it was badly needed for remaining top-order heavyweight Smith to get stuck in diligently, and just how much further he can stretch his vigil on Thursday could be key to South Africa’s prospects of winning this one.

As former SA seamer and SuperSport pundit Craig Matthews cautioned at the close: “In these conditions, we mustn’t think we’re out of the woods here.”

But whatever happens from here on in, the Proteas are at least able to boast that on Wednesday their recalled leg-spinner Imran Tahir truly confirmed his own mettle.

The much-travelled Tahir produced perhaps one of the best bounce-back bowling performances of all time in Test cricket – not unassisted by a fired-up Dale Steyn – as his maiden five-wicket haul in his 12th appearance was instrumental in Pakistan’s astonishing implosion.

He might well have been expected to be suffering from the yips, at least initially, as the very fact that he was gracing Test cricket again after a gap of some 11 months provided some reminders of his angst last time out: that inglorious match “haul” of 0/260 against Australia in Adelaide.

After 13 personal overs of the Baggy Greens’ bulging first innings of 550 in that particular encounter, Tahir had already gone past the ton-up mark (101) in run concession terms, and of course his torment was hardly about to end.

On this occasion, the Lahore-born player’s first 13 overs were light years different; Steyn may have wrapped up the short-lived innings but Tahir’s harvest read 13-3-32-5 – almost as impressive in low run-leakage terms as in the wickets column.

There were some similarities in a South African context, to my mind, with all-rounder Lance Klusener’s debut Test against India at Kolkata in November 1996.

The see-sawing fortunes “Zulu” experienced may have all come in one match, but the turnaround was nevertheless vast as he first registered an analysis of 0/75 off only 14 overs and then exploded into life with 8/64 in 21 overs in India’s second knock for a crucial role in a famous win.
Yes, there were some minor revisits of prior frailties as Tahir served up the odd long hop at Dubai International Stadium, but generally his control was pleasingly tight as he simultaneously demonstrated a lovely box of tricks.

The 34-year-old bowls a wrong ‘un with such confidence and frequency that I am often tempted to want to label him an off-spinner, and the googly that outsmarted the in-form Pakistani captain Misbah-ul-Haq for two was evidence of that guile.

As he grabbed his first couple of scalps, the famously demonstrative Tahir seemed unusually subdued in his celebrations, but the more he prospered the more theatrical his responses became anew.

A former national captain and coach, respectively, were clearly appreciative of his performance.

Said Kepler Wessels: “There’ll be relief in the South African camp ... a spinning option that has worked.”

Meanwhile Eric Simons, back in the Johannesburg studio, added: “(Tahir) is a man of self-belief and great passion.

“He just gives a different dimension to the attack and even if he is not knocking over (recognised) batsmen all the time, he is very useful to employ in mopping up tails.

“I really believe he can be a crucial part of plans going forward.”

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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