Smith excited to have Tahir in squad
Graeme Smith, the South Africa captain, says having an attacking spinner like Imran Tahir in his side is "something that I have dreamt of throughout my captaincy." Tahir, who was born in Pakistan, was named in the South Africa one-day squad for the five-match series against India days after receiving citizenship and has since also been picked in the 30-man preliminary World Cup squad.
Smith said he is looking forward to helping the 31-year-old legspinner, Tahir, feel at home in the national set up. "It's about getting to know him a little bit as a person; spending some time with him is going to be crucial." Smith said. Tahir's rise in status, from domestic player with promise to international player on the verge of greatness, has come at lightning speed and the anticipation surrounding his debut is at fever pitch.
Smith tried to downplay the pressure factor, saying the most important thing was to manage Tahir properly. "I just want to let him find his feet and grow in the environment." The hype surrounding Tahir may end in anticlimax instead of crescendo when the first ODI in Durban starts on Wednesday because inside sources say it is "unlikely" he will play.
While the spotlight has been firmly fixed on Tahir, there are still 13 other squad members to think about and with this being the last ODI series before the World Cup in February, Smith has a lot on his mind. He is aware conditions in South Africa are totally dissimilar to the conditions in the subcontinent, where the World Cup will be played. "It's going to be very difficult to produce Nagpur out at the Wanderers." Still, Smith realised the series was important in terms of getting mentally ready for the World Cup. "Our mindset is very crucial here. We want to play really good cricket and get the confidence up and players need to get good performances under their belt."
South Africa still have a few questions to answer before they pick their World Cup squad and Smith is hoping this series will provide some of those solutions. Being without Jacques Kallis for all five matches allows an opportunity for someone else to establish themselves in the allrounder's role and Smith hopes it will be Wayne Parnell. "Wayne Parnell heads the pack in terms of developing his batting and his bowling and we are trying to get him to a point where he could play that number eight role, performing with both bat and ball." Parnell is widely known as an aggressive left-arm seamer but he has shown confidence with the bat and played as an allrounder at national Under-19 level.
Parnell is part of a group of youngsters that are starting to form the new core of the South African one-day team. Colin Ingram, David Miller and Faf du Plessis are some of the others and Smith wants to make sure that he, personally, plays a role in mentoring the future stars of South African cricket. "They are young guys trying to stake claims [for a place]. It's my job to be sort of the more mature figure around the group at the moment and give them the guidance that will allow them to play their natural games."
Smith made clear how much he will rely on vice-captain Johan Botha to assist him in this task. Botha's worth as a cricketer, which is often questioned by critics, was given a sure-fire validation when he was picked up for $950,000 by the Rajasthan Royals in the IPL auction. Smith referred to Botha as one of the premier allrounders in the side and as someone who directs the game for South Africa. "Johan has been excellent; he really controls the game for us." Botha is being tipped to take over the one-day captaincy when Smith relinquishes his post after the World Cup.
Smith had previously said how much he would treasure winning an ICC trophy before stepping down and the World Cup will be his last opportunity to do so. Smith said the team is doing everything they can to ready themselves for February's tournament. "Everybody is just trying to develop their games in different aspects, trying to bring new shots into their game and trying to move forward with the times. We have been working on certain things for a while now."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent