Confusion reigns over Tahir exclusion
South Africa have had to shelve plans to assess their spin-bowling options after they were forced to withdraw Imran Tahir from the squad for the final Test against England. Tahir, the Pakistan-born legspinner, was thought to have qualified for South Africa last April, but issues have arisen around his residency situation and it's unclear when, or if, he will be able to start an international career.
It is a messy affair for Cricket South Africa, who have been caught unawares by the latest development. There is even uncertainty over whether Tahir, who is married to a Durban woman, has spent enough time in South Africa over the last four years, or whether the problem stems from him not having a local passport.
"To be honest, I'm not 100% sure," Mickey Arthur, South Africa's coach, said. "I think it's something with Home Affairs and hopefully we will get some clarity on it over the next couple of days."
Although he was named in the 15-man squad for the Wanderers, Arthur said that Tahir had not been in line for a debut at the Wanderers, even before this situation arose. However, the management were keen to watch him ahead of the India tour next month, and haven't given up hope of being able to include him on that trip.
"We had him mind for down the line, we feel we need an attacking spinner because we go to India, then West Indies," Arthur said. "He was the guy we had our eye on. I'm sure we can try and get something sorted at Home Affairs but he certainly wasn't available for this Test. We included him to have a look at him and to see if he fits the bill."
Although Tahir is now out of the frame for the immediate future, his original selection shows South Africa aren't convinced by their current spinning options. Paul Harris began the series with a five-wicket haul at Centurion, but has gone steadily downhill to the extent that he was outbowled by JP Duminy in the second innings at Newlands.
Mike Procter, the convenor of selectors, voiced his concerns to Cricinfo a few days ago. "It is a little disappointing when your frontline spinner wasn't able to extract more on a wicket that turned."
Arthur said that Tahir's call-up would have been a chance to see the spinner at close quarters. "It would have been exploratory. When we brought him in we certainly weren't thinking of him playing here, it was a case of seeing what made him tick, getting to know him a little and having a look at him in training just to convince me in my mind that he has what it takes. Unfortunately that's probably not the case now, but we'll see how it pans out."
The other problem for Tahir at the moment is a lack of first-class cricket, having fallen out of favour with the Titans, who have identified a future legspinning prospect in the 23-year-old Shaun von Berg. Though Tahir is set to move to the Durban-based Dolphins franchise for next season, he has had to rely on the amateur three-day competition to keep him in action of late.
"He's still bowling, getting five-fors and ten-fors each week," Arthur said. "I'm not entirely sure what the issues are between him and the Titans, but the Titans obviously aren't going to pick him because they'd rather pick the young leggie they have. We'll play Imran Tahir by ear."
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo