Tahir still waiting to launch career
Imran Tahir must feel like his cricket career is on permanent repeat. Before every series, South Africa's pace attack gets so talked up it is as though Tahir is in the side for either his fielding or his dressing room smoothie-making capabilities.
Then, as a consolation prize, Tahir gets a mention in a backhanded compliment kind of way. Maybe if the quicks don't end the match in three days and the sun shines and pitch wears sufficiently, he could have an impact. So far, none of that has had the chance to happen.
Tahir and Vernon Philander became Test players on the same day. They both donned South African whites for the first time last November at Newlands, known as the country's best track for spinners. The unusual timing of the Test meant the match did end in three days and got Tahir 10 overs, none in the second innings.
Against Sri Lanka who followed soon after Australia departed South African shores, seamer-friendly pitches were prepared to honour the notion that subcontinent batsmen could be scared by bounce. Tahir was talked down before the tour to England, against a team who thought they had a better spinner in Graeme Swann, one who would swing the debate about who had the best attack in the world their way. In the end, the apparent disharmony of England's line-up meant the question of the best attack faded into the background and more pertinent ones had to be asked about No. 4 batsmen and dressing-room culture. Most arguments that start with Tahir end with something else.
While Philander now has 61 Tests wickets and has become so popular that in his first full year as a national cricketer he won South African Sportsmen of the Year two days ago, Tahir has quietly snaffled 26 scalps and is still waiting for his career to take off. Maybe, just maybe, it will happen in Brisbane.
The Gabba pitch has been described as juicy and looks it but, as curator Kevin Mitchell Jr pointed out, it will probably only stay that way on day one. Then, like any good cricket track it will flatten first and break up later. At that point, Tahir will come into play and the groundsman all but confirmed it: "We'll get a bit of deterioration as the game goes on with some cracking, and then those footmarks will dust up for the spinners."
While similar things have been said of other surfaces Tahir has played on, he has more reason to believe it is true about this one. Sixty-eight reasons actually. That is the number of wickets Shane Warne took at the Gabba, his most successful ground. It includes his best of 8 for 71 against England in the summer of 1994-95.
That, with Mitchell's thoughts, would discourage the teams from taking the all-pace route. South Africa hinted they would not choose that path. "If you ask any coach or captain they will say they always like a spinner in their team," Gary Kirsten, South Africa coach, said. "A spinner always plays a role, especially in my experience."
Australia's coach, Mickey Arthur, was even more convinced that the spinner would be useful at the Gabba. "This ground offers bounce, and bounce is a bowler's best friend," he said. "You've still got to land it in the right area, and you've got to build enough pressure. But bounce gives you an opportunity."
In the end, it may be Warne's mantra that means the most to Tahir. "If its seams, its spins," he would say. The Gabba is certain to seam - at least for a bit early on - and by Warne's logic, it is also sure to turn then. Tahir has been a discipline of Warne's in the past. When he played at Hampshire, he remembered Warne travelling from London especially to see him and offer advice. One of the lessons Warne shared was never to be afraid to put fielders on the boundary and get hit a bit.
Australia's young quick, James Pattinson said yesterday the Gabba is a ground where bowlers are encouraged to "bowl without fear". Tahir has spent his entire Test career so far gripped by expectation that has led him to either use too much variation or to bowl within himself. If he is finally allowed to let go of that anxiety, his Test career could take off here, a little like Warne's did.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent