Clock ticking for Tahir
South Africans fans, ever a fickle bunch, were always going to demand the world of Imran Tahir. While the expectations remain, more can be asked of him, writes Jonhenry Wilson.
For a man billed to change the face of South Africa's spin department, with his cosmopolitan roots and attacking leg-spin, Imran Tahir faces daunting odds ahead of his second full international season.
From the very outset, when confusion over his qualification and huge expectations coupled his inclusion in the World Cup squad, Tahir has been under the microscope.
A public following largely on the fence about the arrival of a Pakistan-born player to the Proteas fold soon welcomed the new recruit on the back of a sterling effort on the sub-continent, even if it didn't facilitate a semi-final graduation.
General inadequacy in the five-day fold – the ultimate testing ground – against Australia, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and now England, however, has opinion divided.
South Africans fans, ever a fickle bunch in the quest for their own Graeme Swann or – at the very least – Nathan Lyon, were always going to demand the world of Tahir.
Forced to rectify an average legacy exemplified by Pat Symcox and Nicky Boje's failure to thrive despite ample opportunity, the challenge set out for the journeyman couldn't have been bigger.
Paul Harris, who plied his trade for 47 Tests across four years before being unceremoniously dumped, will be the first to acknowledge the raw deal unashamedly dished out to South African spinners.
Just 14 matches into an international career that, one hopes, would have been mapped out for a lot more by the national selectors, now is not the time to give up on Tahir.
An inheritance perhaps left by the legendary Shane Warne, that a leg-spinner deliver on demand each time and every time, will see the 33-year-old meet his toughest test yet in Australia later this year.
Michael Clarke and company showed Tahir little mercy in his maiden Test series last year, when belated wickets through the tail-end saved him from an otherwise paltry debut.
That trend of removing lower-order batsmen on the slog has since continued, typified by Stuart Broad and James Anderson's heaves at Headingley on Sunday, and certainly papers over Tahir's general inability to get rid of the bigger guns up the order.
Key to the visit Down Under and, indeed, his future will be as a complementary force to Dale Steyn. There isn't much sweeter viewing than a fast bowler and leg-spinner operating in tandem in Test cricket for extended periods (see Glenn McGrath/Warne circa 1995 through 2006).
For now, though, Tahir remains in limbo. Quick to judge at the first sign of a foot wrong (quite literally, given his rogue penchant for no-balls), South African fans will soon pick sides for good.
Coach Gary Kirsten and captain Graeme Smith, meanwhile, need to start asking more of their spin ace. While they'll be happy to let his expense slide (Tahir is so far more costly than Paul Adams, Symcox, Boje and Harris ever were), his bowling average – currently in the high 30s – has to decrease considerably.
Smith, more in the business of protecting the spinner than insisting he come the party at key junctures in the contest, has done well to reverse the norm against England. While Tahir hasn't exactly owned the opportunity, he'd do well to eradicate doubt through greater consistency.
Lord's will certainly allow Tahir to answer his critics a little bit more – and ascertain the exact extent of South Africa's bigger picture for him.
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