New Zealand v South Africa, one-off T20I, Auckland February 17, 2017

Tahir muscles in to take IPL spotlight

Imran Tahir with his Man of the Match award © AFP

With a career-best 5 for 24 to underline his No. 1 ranking in both limited-formats, Imran Tahir seems to have everything he could want at the moment, except maybe one thing.

"I wish I could have muscles like him," Tahir joked, the day before the one-off T20 against New Zealand in Auckland.

The person Tahir was referring to was Sonny Bill Williams, the New Zealand rugby player, boxer and signature bad-boy-turned-good, who is a close friend of Hashim Amla. Amla introduced Williams to Tahir and other team-mates including Wayne Parnell two years ago and they make a point of catching up when they're in the same country, and Tahir is still in awe of Williams' superstardom.

"When I first met him I was shaking because we were walking on a street in Auckland and I could see people's reaction and I was blown away," Tahir said. "He stopped for everyone and took pictures. I've never seen someone who's that famous."

Cricketers in South Africa seldom get similarly swamped, not even when they are dominating internationally the way Tahir is, and he knows that a more imposing physique will not change that. "I'm happy with what I am - I'm not jealous of him," Tahir clarified, amid some giggles. Imagine a Tahir with bulging biceps and thunder thighs.

Jokes aside, Tahir's body will soon come up in discussions about how much longer he will be able to play. He turns 38 next month and has been playing cricket at a high level for two decades but has managed to avoid major injury. Being a spinner, whose action does not cause as much wear and tear as a quick bowler's would, he is thought to have at least another two to three years, although he has suggested he could keep going for between five and ten. That doesn't seem so outlandish when considering that Tahir has stayed fit and become more athletic and agile in the field than he was when he first emerged on the international scene.

Tahir's dedication to his craft has only increased as his career has progressed. He maintains that having waited so long to play for South Africa - Tahir moved to the country in the mid-2000s but only become eligible to play for them in 2011, when he was 32 - he wants to hold on to it for as long as he can.

And there is maybe one other thing. The IPL auction takes place in three days' time and this T20 was a last audition for some of the players looking to get deals - though Tahir insisted it was only a passing thought to him. He was released by Delhi Daredevils and has a base price of US$75,000, which is just short of a million South African Rand.

Given how well Tahir has been performing recently, he is expected to fetch more than that. So while he may not have the muscles, he could soon boost his earnings by more than a million in one day.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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