South Africa v Sri Lanka, Champions Trophy, Group B, The Oval June 3, 2017

Tahir torments favourite opponents again

The legspinner's late introduction was a surprise, but two overs is all it took for him to wrest control back in South Africa's favour

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Star turn

In the two preceding matches of the tournament, three fine batsmen - Tamim Iqbal, Joe Root and Kane Williamson - racked up centuries. On Saturday, Hashim Amla joined the club. It needed something special to shade that, and Imran Tahir came up with that defining performance.

Having made 299, South Africa watched Sri Lanka's top order race to 116 for 2 in 16 overs. Tahir's delayed introduction raised a few eyebrows, but he made an impact immediately. After watching his captain come up with some magic on the field to run out Dinesh Chandimal, he completed a double-strike for South Africa by foxing Chamara Kapugedera with a googly first ball.

The headstart provided by the openers meant Sri Lanka were still ahead. They were playing an extra batsman precisely for a situation like this. But this was by now well into Tahir's territory. Having already delayed his introduction, de Villiers couldn't afford to hold him back against two left-handers, Upul Tharanga and Kusal Perera. Did it affect Tahir's plans? Hardly.

Tahir makes up for lack of assistance off the surface with his drift. Here, he was happy to toss the ball up and have the batsmen driving against the turn. He nearly had a second wicket when Tharanga sliced a drive wide of point. Being the persistent bowler that he is, he stuck to his plans. Two overs later, he got one to drift away, grip the surface and turn the other way. Tharanga, who by now had already decided to go inside-out over long-off, ended up hitting it a lot squarer to David Miller at deep cover. The game was half-sealed there. He had delivered yet again.

The wow moment

His celebrations after taking a wicket can be hard to top, but his reaction after firing a rocket throw from mid-off to run out Suranga Lakmal at the striker's end was priceless. AB de Villiers, who had a clear view of the throw from cover, didn't need reconfirmation from the third umpire that he had indeed done the unthinkable. When 'OUT' flashed on the big screen, Tahir had a look of disbelief with his arms held aloft. It made the day's work that much sweeter.

Stats that matter

  • This was Imran Tahir's eighth four-wicket haul in ODIs. It's the most by any spinner since his debut in 2011
  • His economy of 4.11 against Sri Lanka is his best among the top eight teams. He has picked 24 wickets in 10 games against them and has never gone wicketless.

What they said

"I wasn't expecting any spin - watching the game the other day - but there was something, especially with my variation. Pleased with the way it came out today," Tahir was pleasanty surprised with the Oval surface

"You've got to read the conditions. I wanted to bring him in as late as possible. A good feeling in the gut is what it comes down to. I can bowl him pretty much at any time. There were no set plans," AB de Villiers on the rationale behind Tahir's late introduction

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Chatty on June 5, 2017, 23:04 GMT

    Tahir is no doubt a great limited overs bowler. But I cannot understand why SL batsmen are so bad at playing him. SL batters should be great players of spin, but the current lot is not. I think this is where the loss of the big three - Dilshan, Sanga and Mahela affect SL most - in the way they play spin bowling. Those three could dominate any spin attack, and of course Dilshan and Sanga were great players of fast bowling too. But now, there isn't anyone who can really dominate spin.

  • diren on June 4, 2017, 7:24 GMT

    The greatest spinner that ever played for SA and he also is the greatest spinner in the world currently based on stats.

  • Garry on June 3, 2017, 19:56 GMT

    He is an excellent white ball bowler, proof that hard work pays off. It is probably too late for him to become a test bowler but he is a real weapon for SA and franchises in short form cricket.

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