Test of character for ambitious Tahir
England's batsmen have been breathing much easier this summer without having to face Shane Warne, but their latest wrist-spin challenge may not be far away. Imran Tahir, the Pakistan-born Hampshire legspinner, has now qualified for South Africa and is hopeful of being in the shake-up when England begin their tour in November.
The phrase journeyman doesn't do justice to Tahir's career which has seen him play for at least 10 teams before finally finding secure places for Hampshire in England, and the Titans in South Africa. He has performed a crucial role in Hampshire's progression to the Friends Provident Trophy final at Lord's after taking 3 for 38 in the semi against Lancashire, where his well-disguised mixture of top-spinners and googlies proved too much for the opposition.
He is a potential matchwinner against Sussex on Saturday and is the stand-out legspinner in county cricket now that Mushtaq Ahmed has retired. And, after 12 years of trying to cement his career, the chance of an international future also looms large, but not with his country of birth where A-team selection was the highest level he reached in 2005.
"There has been talk about it since I qualified for South Africa, but as far as I'm concerned I just need to keep performing like I have over the last two years," Tahir told Cricinfo. "Test cricket is the biggest dream I have and hopefully it will happen for me this year or next, but I haven't given it too much thought as yet."
Mickey Arthur is a big supporter and has been following his progress although Tahir knows he faces a stiff task to break into a successful South Africa Test unit. The irony is that if he does earn a debut in the near future it is likely to come at the expense of his Titans team-mate Paul Harris. The duo have formed a productive partnership for their franchise, but in South African conditions it is unlikely there will be room for both.
"I have spoken to Paul about it a few times, but it's difficult to see South Africa playing two spinners at home because the pitches favour the quick bowlers so it could be a case of either him or me," he said. "Paul has done a great job over the last few years so it will be hard to get past him."
Tahir is very conscious of keeping his international ambitions as something for the future as he concentrates on his season for Hampshire, which has now reached a crunch stage with silverware up for grabs, and he is going to savour the experience of Lord's.
"It will definitely be a huge day for me. It's the first time I have played a one-day final at Lord's and it will be very special," he said. "A full house at Lord's will be really special. I've played in front of some big crowds before, but this will be at the home of cricket."
He admits, though, that as he moved from one team to another he did start to have doubts where is career was heading. "A few years ago I did start to wonder whether I would find a permanent team. I was travelling around playing for a lot of different sides, but I kept hold of the belief that one-day I would fine somewhere and thankfully Hampshire came along in England and also the Titans in South Africa. When I joined Hampshire I knew it was important to take the chance and so far it has gone well.
"I'm enjoying my cricket at Hampshire," he added. "Everyone from the players, to the fans to the committee have made be feel very welcome and I'm very grateful for that."
However, this final won't be his first appearance at Lord's. One of the many teams he has turned out for included a short spell at Middlesex in 2003 where he played a single game and returned 1 for 128 against Lancashire in NW8. He tried again in county cricket in 2007, but one game for Yorkshire ended wicketless. With Hampshire it's been third time lucky. Last year he took 44 wickets at 16.68 to propel a late charge at the Championship title.
His results in the last three domestic seasons he has played (two in South Africa and one in England) have brought 121 scalps at 21.54. Although his current Championship haul is down on that with 21 wickets at 40, spinners come into their own during the second half of the season.
"I have learnt a lot about my bowling since I first came over to England." he said. "As a legspinner you get better the older you become." Sussex - and England - have been warned. Or should that be Tahired?
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo