DURBAN – Imran Tahir is known to serve up a variety of tricky deliveries, but his greatest delivery by far, say, teammates, is the smoothie.
They come in a variety of flavours (Tahir sometimes uses avocado) and can easily arrive – like his googly – out of nowhere.
“He makes the greatest fruit shakes of all time,” says his Dolphin’s coach, Grant Morgan. “My favourite is the one with bananas and berries and honey. Sometimes you haven’t even asked for one and suddenly it’s there.”
The Smoothie King of the South Coast couldn’t be a nicer guy, says Morgan, although, as befits a leg spinner, he’s also a ball of contradictions. He’s a team man but a loner, intensely gregarious but somehow apart, sometimes talkative but also a man who keeps his own counsel.
He’s a father now (to Jibran, aged four) which has reinforced the need to settle down. But he still has a “cousin” in every cricket-playing city in the world.
“We give him a lot of scope here at the Dolphins,” says Morgan. “We don’t insist he’s at every practice or anything like that, particularly when he’s come back from Proteas’ duty. Sometimes I’ll look up and see him doing laps around Kingsmead.
Or shuttles or sprints. He’s here on his own and we basically let him get on with it. If he wants to bowl in the nets or pad up that’s also fine.”
Appetite comes in many forms, of course, and while the Lahore-born Tahir loves his smoothies, he also has a thirst for knowledge. Ever since he was the sorcerer’s apprentice, he’s consulted with the famous Pakistani leg-spinner, Abdul Qadir, one of the legends of the mystery arts.
“I don’t know how often it happens but I know they still talk,” says Morgan. “Qadir has been very important in Immy’s development.”
South Africans didn’t see Qadir because of isolation but he was said to be a magician. Donald Woods, the former editor of the Daily Dispatch and author of an acclaimed biography on Steve Biko said that Qadir had many different deliveries and five different appeals.
“Qadir has a range of appeals for lbw,” wrote Woods, “one supplicatory, one accusatory, one challenging and one slyly inquisitive, then the major one, the total and ultimate appeal.”
Although Tahir might not have quite this range of appeals, Morgan feels he gets fewer leg-before decisions than he should. “Leg-before (lbw) is always contentious and, don’t forget, in domestic games, you can’t refer so I think that umpires are going to err on the side of caution,” he says.
Like Qadir, Tahir is an emotional cricketer, funnelling all of himself wholeheartedly into the game. He has the same angled-run up that Qadir had, and although he doesn’t achieve as much bounce as the master, has a similar bag of tricks, including the orthodox leg-spinner, the googly, the slider and the top-spinner.
Qadir played 67 Tests (taking 236 wickets at an average of 32.80) far more than Tahir’s 20 matches in the longest format, but it’s in the 50-over game that the comparison between the two makes for remarkable reading. Qadir took 132 wickets in his 104 ODIs, at an average of 26.16 and an economy rate of 4.06.
By contrast, Tahir has taken more wickets in fewer matches (158 in 96 ODIs) at a lower average (24.50), although his economy-rate is higher than Qadir’s.
The figures are similarly impressive in relation to other spinners who bowl in T20s, with the stand-out stat here being Tahir’s strike-rate, which places him third in the world behind Sri Lanka’s Ajantha Mendis and England’s Graeme Swann.
“He bowls at hot times in an innings when the batting side is expecting to gather momentum,” says Morgan. “He has a wicket-takers heart, so he doesn’t like giving runs away. And the burden of expectation on him is immense because people expect that he’ll take wickets.”
“I think he’s a bit like Tiger Woods – he’s an absolute genius.”
With Tahir’s announcement last week that he would be retiring from ODI cricket after the World Cup (he remains available for T20s) so ends a chapter. Here was a player who once played regularly for Easterns because he couldn’t break into the Titans side; here was a player who couldn’t field, couldn’t bat and, worse still, couldn’t throw.
“He’s always working on his game,” says Morgan. “He’s just perfected this spinning throw. He’s a legend. The national side is going to seriously miss him.”
And his smoothies.
African News Agency (ANA)