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Ken Borland

Tahir heading for Joburg … and Pakistan

Posted on May 17, 2012 by Ken

The need for trophies and the No 1 Test ranking are driving Imran Tahir at the moment – and he’s heading for Johannesburg and Pakistan as a result.

Tahir announced on Wednesday that, tired of being beaten to the floor with the Dolphins, he will be playing his domestic cricket for the bizhub Highveld Lions from next season. The Lions are obviously delighted to have the services of one of the most successful domestic bowlers of recent times on a one-year contract.

“I want to be around more senior players and with a more successful team, I want to win trophies,” Tahir explained at the Wanderers on Wednesday.

“It’s hard when the team just relies on you – I was bowling 70 to 80 overs a game for the Dolphins, which is too much. It’s good when you’re 24 or 25, but I need more support,” the 33-year-old Tahir said.

“There’s a good environment here and players who can help me like Neil McKenzie, who I played with in Hampshire and we got along very well.”

While Tahir’s home for next summer is now sorted out, the legspinner also announced on Wednesday that he will be returning to Pakistan, the country of his birth, for some inspiration ahead of the winter’s major challenge – the three tests in England that will decide the No 1 ranked team.

The source of this hoped-for inspiration will be Pakistan great Abdul Qadir, the leg-spinning legend who performed miraculous deeds against England, taking 82 wickets in 16 tests against them between 1977 and 1987.

Tahir first sat down with Qadir in 2000 and is looking forward to reuniting with someone who has clearly been a role-model, their whirring actions and desire to bowl every variety of delivery being very similar.

“I did have offers from counties and I actually accepted one from Surrey, which I then turned down, because I’ve been working really hard on my fitness and I’m going to back to Pakistan to get some help from Abdul Qadir. I’m kind of a bowler like him and he’s been really helpful to me before, since the first time I met him in 2000.

“He’s a legend and he can help me big time… I just need to get him out on to the cricket ground because it’s 48 degrees outside!” Tahir said of the 56-year-old who took 236 wickets in 67 tests.

“It’s a very big series against England and if we can win it, it would be something special, one of the biggest achievements in my career.”

The weather in England is typically miserable at the moment and if it stays the same through to South Africa’s arrival in July, then Tahir will face an uphill struggle akin to David’s battle with Goliath on green seamers.

“It’s normally drier in July and August and I hope there’s a good summer for us, it will be harder for me if the pitches are like they are now. But the fact that most tests in England are now going into the fourth or fifth day is good for spinners,” Tahir said.

The exuberant leggie from Lahore tends to charge off around the park whenever he takes a wicket and his celebrations have attracted some unkind words from overseas.

“If I’m playing for my country, I try as hard as I can. I make sure I don’t relax because then I might lose concentration and bowl a bad ball. I like to try too hard!

“I just want to enjoy my cricket and the celebrations just come, I go with the flow. Even in club cricket in England I used to do it… I don’t know if I just lose myself,” Tahir said.

Sit back and enjoy the ride, is probably the best advice for anyone watching Tahir in action as he is the type of bowler who likes to attack and he is not scared to show his personality, which adds to the entertainment value of his mystical art.

The England team and their supporters have certainly been puffed up on airs of self-congratulation and pomposity since their ascension to the No 1 ranking, and Tahir has already been written off as a threat, his figures of just 18 wickets at an average of 37.05 in seven tests being used as justification.

Tahir is not one to trash-talk and he refused to counter with England’s miserable record against spin.

“They had one bad series against Pakistan but I would say they are good players of spin. I wouldn’t say they’re not good against it. We have to respect them to beat them and they are a good team, so it will be a good challenge. I’m sure everyone will be up for it because we want to take their place at No 1,” he said.

What critics of Tahir have conveniently overlooked is that those 18 wickets have come in some of the most pace-friendly conditions imaginable as South Africa hosted tests against Australia and Sri Lanka and they then travelled to the verdant pitches of New Zealand.

“There’ve been five tests in South Africa and three in New Zealand, and maybe one of those pitches took spin, so I had to have defensive fields,” Tahir pointed out.

That Tahir is a threat to even the strongest batting line-ups is borne out by comments made by England star Kevin Pietersen in late 2010 when they played together in the Dolphins team.

“He is in a different league. He spins the ball both ways and he’s got incredible control. If you can spin the ball both ways you get wickets.

“He does bowl the odd bad ball, but if managed properly and given lots of confidence, the man can bowl any team out,” Pietersen said.

Tahir is going to England full of hunger – he is definitely making up for lost time after only graduating to test cricket at the age of 32 – and he also has the knowledge of how to prosper there, having enjoyed successful stints with Middlesex, Yorkshire, Hampshire and Warwickshire between 2003 and 2011.

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