Harris: SA should play Tahir

Imran Tahir (Gallo Images)
Imran Tahir (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Stick with the attacking spin qualities offered by Imran Tahir for the first Test against India at the Wanderers from next Wednesday, says former Proteas stalwart Paul Harris.

The now-retired left-arm spinner, who earned 37 Tests caps, was speaking at the Momentum Cricket Sixes at Claremont CC here on Saturday, where South Africa stars both past and present rubbed shoulders on the field with more “social” cricketers.

The Proteas squad for the Bullring encounter contains two specialist spinners in leg-spinning incumbent Tahir, plus seasoned left-arm option Robin Peterson, who was replaced for the second Test against Pakistan in Dubai by the former earlier in the season: Tahir responded with his maiden five-wicket haul and match figures of eight for 130 in the series-squaring win.

But selection convenor Andrew Hudson was quoted recently as saying that they would keep their options open for the Wanderers: “If we go for an attacking spinner, Imran is our guy and if we feel we need a more defensive spinner, we will go with Robbie.”

Peterson undoubtedly also offers greater potential in the batting and fielding department, although if South Africa stick to their “seven batsmen” policy, they should not need to obsess too much about beefing up the tail.

Harris told Sport24: “I think Imran must play; he did very well against Pakistan in the UAE and he gives you that extra attacking option. He deserves it; he’s done well enough to keep his spot.

“There’s always Vernon (Philander, with his seam-bowling accuracy) to rely on to do a holding job very well if we find ourselves needing that at times.

“This team has performed particularly well over a period of time now, so (stability in selection) makes sense.

“I’m not sure if the Wanderers will turn much, though Durban should give some help in the second Test.”

What about the possibility of the Proteas ignoring a specialist spinner altogether, with additional squad paceman Rory Kleinveldt making it an all-out bombardment of the Indians on that front?

“It is an option to go in without a spinner at all if the pitch is looking ridiculously green, but only if it really is that,” says Harris.

“You should almost always have a specialist spinner - five days can be a long time. Even if he doesn’t do much bowling at all (initially), it’s usually reassuring to know a spinner is in your ranks.

“There’s been so much rain on the Highveld in the last month or so, so the pitch may not be quite as quick as it normally is. If it is soft and slower it may actually turn a little.

“Look, seamers are still your main weapons at Wanderers ... that is always the case. But if they do manage to get some hot sun on the surface in the days leading up to the Test, it may dry out and spin.”

Harris agreed that India might try to go after Tahir, who is prone to erring in line and length every now and then, even if his overall economy rate after 12 Tests is reasonable enough at 3.47, and not significantly inferior to Peterson’s 3.33.

“I think they probably will try to target him as a release from (relentless seam pressure), but it may also play into his hands nicely if they have a dip at him - it can hugely help your quest for wickets.”

Tahir has played once previously in a Test at the Wanderers, the nail-biter which the Proteas lost by two wickets to Australia in November 2011, and managed four wickets, including a useful three in the first innings when he mopped up the Aussie tail pretty well.

That is another department which the brains trust realises is a Tahir strong point ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing
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England 92/4 (28 ov)
Pakistan 326
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England 92/4 (28 ov)
Pakistan 326
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