November 28, 2010

A new country for Imran Tahir

He came to South Africa for the love of a woman, stayed to play cricket, and now awaits his chance to play for his new homeland
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The last news Imran Tahir's mother had of her son was that he had been selected for South Africa. That was in January this year, when the Pakistani-born legspinner was included in the national Test side to play England. She died before word reached Lahore that he was ineligible to play for South Africa and never took to the field.

"I think that was the best present I could give her," said Tahir. "She was quite proud of what I achieved. I wish she could have seen me play more, but that's life."

Tahir didn't see much of his mother as he grew up. He has lived a nomadic lifestyle since he was 19 years old, playing cricket everywhere from his native Pakistan to the English county championship to sunny South Africa.

The last of those places stole his heart. He first travelled to the rainbow nation in January 1998, as a member of the Pakistan Under-19 World Cup team. On that trip he met Sumayya Dildar, a young woman in Durban, and fell in love. Tahir had to return to his homeland, but his heart stayed behind. Herschelle Gibbs may have us believe that old-fashioned romance is a foreign concept to cricketers, but Tahir's cross-continental relationship lasted eight years and shows unrivalled commitment.

"I had to go back to Pakistan because I was a centrally contracted player and I was captain of my state team, Lahore, but we kept in touch over the years. I called her so many times in that time that there is no phone number I know better."

In 2006, Tahir returned to South Africa, under the influence of his friend Gulam Bodi, to marry Sumayya.

"Gulam is like my brother. He told me to come for trials at the Titans franchise. I met Richard Pybus there and I found out that he had coached Pakistan. They offered me a contract so I moved to South Africa. But the main reason I came back was to marry Sumayya."

The first few months were difficult for Tahir. Along with wedding preparations he had to adjust to a new city, where public transport was almost non-existent. He relied on Bodi for wheels and more. "I travelled with him, he took me for practices, and we lived together. After I got married, I moved out and lived in one of the Titans flats, across the road from SuperSport Park."

His performances on the field showed no signs of strain; quite the contrary. In the 2007-08 season he was the most successful bowler in the first-class competition, with 31 wickets in six first-class matches at an average of 23.80. He finished sixth in the overall bowling rankings. The next season he took 32 wickets in eight matches and ended third on the table.

Tahir said the success was simply due to being happy in his surroundings. "It's a beautiful country and I've had a good experience. I have learnt a lot about my bowling here. I think I am a much better bowler than when I came to South Africa. I've just been loving it, I'm enjoying my cricket, and I've been honest with the game."

"Warne gave me good tips, in a way you wouldn't expect from him. He drove back to London from Hampshire, which is an hour and a half away, and caught his flight home. That was the nicest thing that ever happened to me"

He only started to entertain thoughts of playing international cricket during the 2009 county season. He took 52 wickets in 12 matches for Hampshire, including four five-wicket hauls, and was the second highest wicket-taker. "I thought I would play for South Africa, because I had a great county season. It is one of the toughest leagues around and I was doing well." Many people were tracking Tahir's progress, including one Shane Warne.

"Warne was in London and he was going back to Australia, but he came to chat with me in the nets," Tahir said. "He gave me good tips, in a way you wouldn't expect from him. The same day, he drove back to London from Hampshire, which is an hour and a half away, and caught his flight home. That was the nicest thing that ever happened to me." Dmitri Mascarenhas, who knew Warne from the Rajasthan Royals, organised the session, and it led Tahir to think of Warne as one of the best people he had ever met.

When he returned to South Africa, Tahir found things at the Titans had changed and he was no longer their blue-eyed boy. "I wasn't getting picked for the Titans anymore. I was so disappointed because I wanted to play franchise cricket and they wanted me to play amateur cricket, which was not fair because I was getting wickets." Tahir took 60 wickets in 10 matches for Easterns, but still the Titans shut him out. "I decided just to kill the season and concentrate on getting back in the next year."

Another superb county season followed, this time with Warwickshire, the highlight of which was taking five wickets in the final of the CB40 final. Then, with a fresh mindset, he moved to his wife's hometown of Durban to start a new season with the Dolphins, under the management of Graham Ford.

"I know Fordie from Kent. He has been unbelievable," Tahir said. "He knows the game and he knows what players want. As a coach, it not about your ability, it's about how you handle players. Ability will always be there. You will be around good players and you can improve on it. Its strong management that makes players feel comfortable."

Tahir has taken 30 wickets in four first-class games this season and 10 in seven-limited overs games. His best return was a match tally of 12 scalps against his former team, the Titans, sweet revenge indeed. "It's the nature of a human that when you get neglected somewhere you want to go back and prove a point. I was very passionate about it before the game. I didn't sleep and thought if I get the ball, I can show them. I kept things very simple in the game and I got wickets."

It's that passion that Tahir promises to bring to the international game as well, if he is given the opportunity to play at that level. "I can't see myself playing anywhere else in the world. You don't know how much I want to play international cricket for South Africa." He has been told that he will become eligible in December but is not sure if his papers will be sorted out in time for the series against India. One thing is certain: South Africa are on the hunt for an attacking spinner and Tahir's record can't be ignored. Once the administration is taken care of, he has a very real chance of finally being able to live the gift he never gave to his mother.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Vilander on November 30, 2010, 18:39 GMT

    @ Pak fans, how good was this guy against Pak batsmen, was he of Danish kaneria class or less ?, cause even a par sub-continent spinner would be ok - good against the SA batsmen.

  • kriskingle on November 30, 2010, 16:22 GMT

    Brilliant article. One of the finest I ever read on this website.

  • Proteas123 on November 30, 2010, 7:41 GMT

    @ diri - You are spot on. SA are the most feared team around. He will add a new dimention to the team though.

  • on November 30, 2010, 7:40 GMT

    Imran Tahir, well done in both Cricket and Love. You have made your life by getting married to Sumayya. May you get a chance to play for SA. Lovely wife and competitive cricket that's what you got by Love of a woman. Bravo...

  • Ahmer on November 30, 2010, 7:24 GMT

    A good Bollywood director can surely make the movie out of this story

  • on November 30, 2010, 6:38 GMT

    This guyy deserves a break into the SA team... a story straight out of Hollywood box... It has romance, passion for the game, hints of racisim, ever desire to succeed and a sweet revenge...

  • on November 30, 2010, 6:05 GMT

    This dude is still young for a leg spinner. He's about a year younger than Harris so his age shouldnt' even be a question. Get him in there as soon as possible!!!

  • Jodhvir on November 30, 2010, 1:01 GMT

    as an indian supporter this i very heart-warming story and he hopefully gets to fulifil is amibtion of playing international cricket soon if not against india then maybe in the worldcup in feburary south africa could do with a quality spin bowler to test the likes of the world best batsmen at this current point of time

  • on November 29, 2010, 14:51 GMT

    Give him a chance - South Africa could benefit from a good leg-break bowler. He definitely deserves it. I would love to see him in the team! :)

  • SUNDOS on November 29, 2010, 12:09 GMT

    Oh what wouldnt SOuth Africa do for a decent spinner..They must thank Cupid and the assorted Gods of love that a prolonged courtship has ended in a leg spinner in contention to play for the would be best team in the world!!The mind boggles, a pacy bouncy track,Steyn and Morkel all brimstone and fire,and then instead of the restrictive Harris and the predictable Botha,a leggie who could actually Spin the Proteas to victory. It also says so much of the New South Africa.,embracing the brown and not so white of the world and providing a stage for them to display sheer talent.

  • Vilander on November 30, 2010, 18:39 GMT

    @ Pak fans, how good was this guy against Pak batsmen, was he of Danish kaneria class or less ?, cause even a par sub-continent spinner would be ok - good against the SA batsmen.

  • kriskingle on November 30, 2010, 16:22 GMT

    Brilliant article. One of the finest I ever read on this website.

  • Proteas123 on November 30, 2010, 7:41 GMT

    @ diri - You are spot on. SA are the most feared team around. He will add a new dimention to the team though.

  • on November 30, 2010, 7:40 GMT

    Imran Tahir, well done in both Cricket and Love. You have made your life by getting married to Sumayya. May you get a chance to play for SA. Lovely wife and competitive cricket that's what you got by Love of a woman. Bravo...

  • Ahmer on November 30, 2010, 7:24 GMT

    A good Bollywood director can surely make the movie out of this story

  • on November 30, 2010, 6:38 GMT

    This guyy deserves a break into the SA team... a story straight out of Hollywood box... It has romance, passion for the game, hints of racisim, ever desire to succeed and a sweet revenge...

  • on November 30, 2010, 6:05 GMT

    This dude is still young for a leg spinner. He's about a year younger than Harris so his age shouldnt' even be a question. Get him in there as soon as possible!!!

  • Jodhvir on November 30, 2010, 1:01 GMT

    as an indian supporter this i very heart-warming story and he hopefully gets to fulifil is amibtion of playing international cricket soon if not against india then maybe in the worldcup in feburary south africa could do with a quality spin bowler to test the likes of the world best batsmen at this current point of time

  • on November 29, 2010, 14:51 GMT

    Give him a chance - South Africa could benefit from a good leg-break bowler. He definitely deserves it. I would love to see him in the team! :)

  • SUNDOS on November 29, 2010, 12:09 GMT

    Oh what wouldnt SOuth Africa do for a decent spinner..They must thank Cupid and the assorted Gods of love that a prolonged courtship has ended in a leg spinner in contention to play for the would be best team in the world!!The mind boggles, a pacy bouncy track,Steyn and Morkel all brimstone and fire,and then instead of the restrictive Harris and the predictable Botha,a leggie who could actually Spin the Proteas to victory. It also says so much of the New South Africa.,embracing the brown and not so white of the world and providing a stage for them to display sheer talent.

  • diri on November 29, 2010, 11:42 GMT

    Nuxxy SA already have a team that everyone should be scared of....Tahir will just make them even more deadly. Unbeatable....

  • Dixy109 on November 29, 2010, 10:32 GMT

    Best of luck to the man. He's been a consistent performer in the County Championship for the past couple of years, where admittedly the standard of opposition is nowhere near as great as that encountered at international level, but I hope to see him in the South African XI. He's undoubtedly a far superior bowler to Paul Harris, who has been deadwood in the Proteas side for some time now, and I'm sure could even give the limited-overs specialist Botha a run for his money. True he may not exactly be the youngest prospective player on the cards, but there's no substitute for experience and Tahir has plenty of that, having played all around the world and excelled in different conditions.

    In a way it's just a shame that such an obviously exceptional talent as his wasn't better nurtured by Pakistan. But it was a woman that drew him to South Africa and there he found happiness and fulfillment- omni vincit amor.

  • KiwiRocker- on November 29, 2010, 10:09 GMT

    It is incredible that how talented Pakistani players are. It is a real shame that due to inept administration of PCB, Pakistan is not fully justifying their talent. A Pakistani named Usman Khawaja is about to play for Australia and similarly Imran Tahir is another example. If Khawaja plays for Australia, he will not only be first Muslim but first South Asian origin player. This is a huge achievement when you see how competitive Australia domestic circuit is and that how many Indians and Sri Lankans are in Australia. Problem with Pakistan's current administration is that they are not nourishing the talent and its about time that they stand up to manipulative and back stabbing tact of BCCI that is getting biased treatment thanks to Uncle Pawar at ICC. I reckon its matter of time before Zulqarnain Haider turns up for England too…

  • on November 29, 2010, 9:18 GMT

    i hope he gets selected for SA. We definitely can use him to add some variety to our 1-dimensional attack. Even if his age is against him he can definitely give us services for 3+ years. Lets think out the box guys and do wats good for the team not our ego's.

  • ahmersaeed78 on November 29, 2010, 9:10 GMT

    imran tahir is one of the most interesting, hard working and enthusiastic cricketers i have ever come across. As far as i remember him he brings believe and character to any team he plays for. i wish him well in life(professional and personal) as he deserves it. i hope he plays for s.africa soon and shows pakistan what a great potential and a brilliant human being they have missed on. good luck Imran

  • on November 29, 2010, 9:04 GMT

    BEST OF LUCK TAHIR. THIS IS URs TIME. WE HOPE YOU TO BE SELECTED AS INTERNATIONAL PLAYER. AND SHOW WORLD, WHO R U ? AND HOW MUCH CAPABLE U ARE ? BEST WISHES

  • on November 29, 2010, 8:18 GMT

    Some one like Tahir desrves the break, beyond man made boundries. This is a nice love story,-in life and Cricket. As a lover of this sport, I wish Tahir the Very Best, and hope his dream comes true. Keep at it Tahir, inshaalla! You will make the grade.

  • burman on November 29, 2010, 8:09 GMT

    i wish him good luck, even just concluded series with pakistan. South African commentators were mentioning him as future prospect of against india in next series at home for SA. I hope he will do well against t he best batting lineup or top of that against spin.

  • Nuxxy on November 29, 2010, 8:01 GMT

    I can't wait for him to play for SA. And if Smith uses him defensively, I will personally start a petition for Smith's head as captain. He should at least have the sense to ask Tahir about the fields and role he wants in the team. Then just get Duminy to work hard on both his bowling and batting, and SA will have a team to fear.

  • on November 28, 2010, 23:53 GMT

    Good Luck Imran for your ambition to play for South Africa.There is, however,one draw back which may cause problem and that is your age. You are already Thirtyone and a half years old and there may be other aspiring bowlers who may not be as good as you are but perhaps quicker in the field.

    Sooner you get a chance the better.

    The silver lining is that you are a slow bowler and they can go on playing in their late thirtees too.

  • on November 28, 2010, 21:43 GMT

    @Haroonalvi, sorry bud, but dream on. Pakistan is hardly feeding world cricket right now. Ajmal Shahzad hasn't had a game for a while for England, and the one nation that is undoubtedly feeding world cricket right now is South Africa. Straus, Trott, Pietersen playing for England, Grant Elliot playing for NZ and two more players from South Africa coming up the ranks in NZ and soon to be eligible. And that isn't all of them either.

  • islamer on November 28, 2010, 21:07 GMT

    @Vilander: Here he says why: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jdl0T7PjXuM

  • Addison_West on November 28, 2010, 19:40 GMT

    I saw him at the Pro40 Final at Lord's a few months ago, and he is a proper old-fashioned leggie - he does bowl the odd bit of dross but he is an attacking bowler and loves to try things, especially the googly. If he gets picked by SA, I expect ol' Captain Adventurous to try and use him as a defensive/stock bowler to keep one end tied up and then get the hump when his bad balls get smacked for four and his good balls take the edge and go uncaught because all the close fielders have been taken away after the first full toss/long hop. I really don't see him succeeding at Test level unless SA have a seismic shift in their thinking and are prepared to take the rough with the smooth. Now if he wants to come and play for England ... ;)

  • on November 28, 2010, 18:50 GMT

    Tahir thoroughly deserves his chance, and I hope he becomes the main spinner for South Africa. A genuine quality spinner and a real diamond, not to mention a really nice guy off the field and a real talisman on the field. Here's to hoping the admin stuff and legals get sorted out so he can play International Cricket - he deserves to dance with the elite.

  • on November 28, 2010, 18:12 GMT

    nice story but come on boy we could do with a spinner like you back home in Pakistan ;) but to each his own and hopefully he'll get selected for SA!

  • shakkw on November 28, 2010, 16:50 GMT

    Very heart touching. Another player of Pakistan origin cricketers doing well in adopted homeland. I hope he plays for South Africa and make both countries proud.

  • on November 28, 2010, 15:47 GMT

    I like his courage and confidence to continue. Go boy you will play for SA soon!

  • Vilander on November 28, 2010, 15:33 GMT

    why does he not want to play for pakistan ?

  • avmd on November 28, 2010, 15:21 GMT

    I remember talking to an Indian cricketer few years ago, who was playing league crickt in Eng for years. He was talking about an "excellent leggei from Pakistan, even better than Kaneria" . Well, only time will tell how good he will be if he played for SA. Certainily has generated a lot of interest. Hopefully he will be playing for SA soon. Can't wait see him playing. Great story, very refershing.

  • haroonalvi on November 28, 2010, 14:39 GMT

    The world cricket is being fed by Pakistani talent these days.

    Ajmal Shahzad playing for England. Usman Khawaja in line to represent Australia an now Imran Tahir in line to represent SA.

    Pakistan all the way.......!

  • on November 28, 2010, 13:57 GMT

    yes soo much better than harris and attacks in a way in which botha just cant!!

  • CricEshwar on November 28, 2010, 13:15 GMT

    Lots of positive energy going for this player. Hope he does good.

  • on November 28, 2010, 13:11 GMT

    OH boy!!! Just Fly High May your dreams full filled as soon as possible, Wanna watch you play for SA, cause SA lacks pure spin attack, specially leg spin

  • sweetspot on November 28, 2010, 12:59 GMT

    Lovely story! Well done Young Man! May you continue to enjoy the blessings. Play against India/Indians at any cost. It is the true test for spinners these days. Do well against India and you will not be ignored after that. Hope the administrative hurdles are cleared before that! Many cheers and don't lose heart over setbacks. Your life is already very adventurous and you are too gifted to be kept on the backburner too long.

  • on November 28, 2010, 12:29 GMT

    awesome story.........it shows what can positive outlook do to help ppl in their life...cheers

  • on November 28, 2010, 12:14 GMT

    Wow an amazing heart touching story!! May Allah grant you with further success in your life! Hope that you are selected for SA national side! Ameen!

  • on November 28, 2010, 11:57 GMT

    International cricket is different game. It will be intersting to see how he performs. Let us hope he does well and will have good career then. I am surprised why he was dropped by the Titans. There must be a reason. Or is it just prejudiced system? big worry.Politics everywhere?

  • on November 28, 2010, 11:24 GMT

    Interesting story of his carrier and life, quite fascinating.

  • RonGriffiths on November 28, 2010, 11:03 GMT

    Having met Imran during his spell at Hampshire I can confirm what a nice person he is. It was nice to hear more from him and I am looking forward to meeting up with him again next season when he returns.

    He deserves his chance for SA and he is a match winner. SA will be stronger with him playing.

    Good luck Imii

  • diri on November 28, 2010, 9:37 GMT

    He is a super bowler. I watched him bambozel international batsmen with his tricks.SA have got to pick him ASAP....Imagine Steyn, Morkel, Kallis , Parnel and now Imran Tahir bowling together!!! What a attack. What variation! With out doubt the most deadly bowling line up in the world . SA should dominate world cricket for the next 10 years

  • on November 28, 2010, 8:42 GMT

    all the best to this charming cricketer may Allah fulfill his dreams of representing south africa at internationl level..

  • THIMMU on November 28, 2010, 8:38 GMT

    sa never had an attacking spinner, as long as i can remember.....a major trophy nd an attacking spinner were missing..hopefully ,now they hav got tahir,nd plsss sa selectors select him as soon as he is eligble coz i feel he has a role to play for sa in the world cup in the sub continent as well as in tests.....would love to see him bowling against india

  • Spitfire_Ace on November 28, 2010, 6:00 GMT

    Sod the rules - England can pick & choose whoever they want whenever they want. Come on South Africa pick a quality, wicket taking spinner!

  • on November 28, 2010, 5:46 GMT

    Thats really a great story,thanks for posting it. i hope lots of strugglers can relate to this

  • Nadeem1976 on November 28, 2010, 5:46 GMT

    wow. Go buddy go. You found love, you found sports , you found a country to play for. I am proud of you as pakistani. Cricket is game of love and peace and as long as you are playing for cricket which ever country you play for as Pakistani we will be proud of you.

    Also we would like to play against you to check your ability as spinner. May you play for SA and do well and make both SA and pakistan a proud country. Have fun and enjoy cricket and love life.

  • TheBigFatFlapjack on November 28, 2010, 5:24 GMT

    A warm and very touching story... Imran, now that you have what you wanted, its in your hands to make the best use of your immense cricketing talent to do well, especially for South africa. Make sure you take good care of the wifey mate. We pray and hope that you're able to fulfil the dreams your mother had for you, Insha-Allah.

  • on November 28, 2010, 5:08 GMT

    Please pick him over Harris. Botha has shown he is not the answer either. Give Tahir a chance. If he bowls well against the Indians, he can take on the world.

  • No featured comments at the moment.

  • on November 28, 2010, 5:08 GMT

    Please pick him over Harris. Botha has shown he is not the answer either. Give Tahir a chance. If he bowls well against the Indians, he can take on the world.

  • TheBigFatFlapjack on November 28, 2010, 5:24 GMT

    A warm and very touching story... Imran, now that you have what you wanted, its in your hands to make the best use of your immense cricketing talent to do well, especially for South africa. Make sure you take good care of the wifey mate. We pray and hope that you're able to fulfil the dreams your mother had for you, Insha-Allah.

  • Nadeem1976 on November 28, 2010, 5:46 GMT

    wow. Go buddy go. You found love, you found sports , you found a country to play for. I am proud of you as pakistani. Cricket is game of love and peace and as long as you are playing for cricket which ever country you play for as Pakistani we will be proud of you.

    Also we would like to play against you to check your ability as spinner. May you play for SA and do well and make both SA and pakistan a proud country. Have fun and enjoy cricket and love life.

  • on November 28, 2010, 5:46 GMT

    Thats really a great story,thanks for posting it. i hope lots of strugglers can relate to this

  • Spitfire_Ace on November 28, 2010, 6:00 GMT

    Sod the rules - England can pick & choose whoever they want whenever they want. Come on South Africa pick a quality, wicket taking spinner!

  • THIMMU on November 28, 2010, 8:38 GMT

    sa never had an attacking spinner, as long as i can remember.....a major trophy nd an attacking spinner were missing..hopefully ,now they hav got tahir,nd plsss sa selectors select him as soon as he is eligble coz i feel he has a role to play for sa in the world cup in the sub continent as well as in tests.....would love to see him bowling against india

  • on November 28, 2010, 8:42 GMT

    all the best to this charming cricketer may Allah fulfill his dreams of representing south africa at internationl level..

  • diri on November 28, 2010, 9:37 GMT

    He is a super bowler. I watched him bambozel international batsmen with his tricks.SA have got to pick him ASAP....Imagine Steyn, Morkel, Kallis , Parnel and now Imran Tahir bowling together!!! What a attack. What variation! With out doubt the most deadly bowling line up in the world . SA should dominate world cricket for the next 10 years

  • RonGriffiths on November 28, 2010, 11:03 GMT

    Having met Imran during his spell at Hampshire I can confirm what a nice person he is. It was nice to hear more from him and I am looking forward to meeting up with him again next season when he returns.

    He deserves his chance for SA and he is a match winner. SA will be stronger with him playing.

    Good luck Imii

  • on November 28, 2010, 11:24 GMT

    Interesting story of his carrier and life, quite fascinating.