Tahir remains work in progress
While South Africa's Test squad are engaged in a team building exercise in Switzerland, which will involve no cricket activities, one of their party is missing out. Imran Tahir, the legspinner, has been left out of the bonding session to working on his game with the South African A side and coach Vincent Barnes was heartened by his performance.
Tahir bowled only once in the match , in the second innings, and finished with 3 for 82 as South Africa A won convincingly. On a surface that did not assist spin, Tahir was "the only bowler who managed to get turn and bounce," according to Barnes.
Still a concern though, is Tahir's over eager streak, which has seen him resort to desperate measures to take wickets. "He was bit impatient at times and tried too many different deliveries," Barnes told ESPNcricinfo. "One thing I am trying to get him to understand is that he must use this time to groom himself and maybe not to always use all his variations. He plays a big role in the South African side."
After seven Tests, with a modest return of 18 wickets at an average of 37.05, Tahir's much-anticipated international career seems to be fizzling away. But, South Africa's team management have kept belief in him. Gary Kirsten described him as a "bowler who can perform different roles," alluding to Tahir's defensive play, which has improved.
Tahir was also the only bowler Graeme Smith made reference to by name when talking about the two bowling attacks. "He offers us something different," Smith said. Occasionally, Tahir tries to be so different that it limits his chances of success but Barnes hopes the time he has spent with A side will settle any nerves ahead of the England series. "I gave him some of my thoughts after the match and hopefully that will help too," Barnes said.
Barnes also kept a careful eye on left-arm seamer Wayne Parnell, who had an erratic time in the recent Twenty20 tri-series in Zimbabwe. Parnell was hit for 61 runs in the first match but composed himself as the series went on and Kirsten praised him on the team's return when he said Parnell had a "good tour."
Although not part of South Africa's Test squad, Parnell is involved at limited-overs level and Barnes said he still has some work to do. "Wayne is still a bit inconsistent, he will bowl a good spell and then an average spell," he said. "I'm concerned about the lack of swing, not overly concerned, but he used to swing the ball more. I think what he needs is more time, he has played a lot of 20-over cricket where he has only bowled four overs, he needs to bowl a lot more."
Time in the middle is something that has worked for Faf du Plessis who scored 144 and has increased his chances of a Test appearance. "Faf is just very focused, he knows where he wants to go with his cricket career," Barnes said. Du Plessis was moved up the order at the Titans franchise last season, from No.6 to No.4, and enjoyed success that he has not had previously in the first-class game, scoring three centuries from four matches.
"He has really understood his game and worked hard. The pitch in Durban was not flat, there was something in it for bowlers who found good areas and Faf combined well with Dean Elgar and saw off the early conditions," Barnes said. Du Plessis maturing also resulted in him being named captain of the A side. He will lead them in a one-day tri-series in Zimbabwe and is also likely to perform the role on the tour of Ireland in August.
Thami Tsolekile will also be part of the Ireland tour and has been touted as the successor to Mark Boucher. He took seven catches and made a stumping in the first match against Sri Lanka A. Barnes said Tsolekile was "outstanding" with the gloves and "knows he has some work to do there." Tsolekile scored just 4 but Barnes is convinced he will improve and said the wicketkeeper is "ready to play international cricket."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent