Marathon man Imran Tahir keeps steaming, but South Africa lose steam


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Of late, he seems to be in command of his art: the legbreak rips, the googly bounces, the balls peel off slowly or whirs across quickly as he tells them to do.

Shared News| Updated: June 24, 2019 10:14:58 am
Imran Tahir breathed life into South Africa’s dead campaign, but ended up again on the losing side. (Reuters)
In all the amusement he provides with his celebratory run, childlike open-jawed enthusiasm, it’s often forgotten that here is a man with solid skills as a leggie. It shouldn’t but Imran Tahir’s theatrics trumps his art. And you can understand why. That run. As if the hangman has loosened the noose around his neck, whisked away into a quiet alley, opened the trap door, and whispered to the bewildered man: you are free. Run.

Of late, he seems to be in command of his art: the legbreak rips, the googly bounces, the balls peel off slowly or whirs across quickly as he tells them to do. Most often, it lands where he wants them to drop. He stirred the comatose South Africans, infused life in them, shook them, made them that all is not lost yet. Just do something. Until then, South Africans had been as flat as beer left open in the Durban sun.

Tahir screamed, appealed, dived, high-fived. And as ever he ran. Such utter delight has been seldom seen on a cricket field. Even by his own delirious past, the moment when he realised the ball had stuck to his hand after Imam ul Haq had driven firmly not only well to his right but pretty low to the ground, he took off. He was brought back by his team-mates – not just then, but in the game as well.

Why were South Africa so muddled in thinking? Did they have a bowling plan at the start until Tahir came on? They trespassed into every error zone: short, wide, full and they telegraphed their slower ones. In 2019, their slower ones were from the 80’s; those off-spun cutters. The world has moved on to knuckle and employing all other fingers and palms of the hands.

Why was their batting so 90’s? Almost like the English from that decade in the ODIs. You could smell timidity from their camp. A sense of meandering dullness.

If South Africa had lost this game, they were out of the tournament. That everyone knew. But considering how patchy they were in the tournament so far, that fact should have liberated them. But they were anchored down, almost timid, looking for someone else to lead them out of the mess. No one really did. At least in the bowling, Tahir tried.

Hashim Amla’s struggles have been painful to watch. He has worked hard, trained his best, even took a break from a T20 domestic tournament before the world cup but runs haven’t just come. Faf du Plessis turned out one of his meandering knocks that he has produced of late: 20-runs gap between runs and balls faced, punches that go straight to fielders followed with the shadow practice of the shot and getting out after settling down. Quinton de Kock’s innings too wouldn’t have surprised anybody. A slowish start, then a few stunning hits and then almost a tendency to throw his wicket away in a silly way.

Opponents pack the legside arc from square-leg to deep midwicket, keep mid-on in, but he still would keep trying to slog-sweep the spinners away. It would come off couple of times before it all goes bust. Injuries didn’t help them of course but still one did expect better fight. At least on the field. The ground fielding was shoddy – in fact, even here, Tahir was one of the best. And that says something.