South Africa in Sri Lanka 2014 June 29, 2014

SA look to Tahir for spin impact

  shares 27

South Africa are a side powered by pace which makes a tour to the subcontinent a stern examination of their more subtle skills. The quick men have to exhibit patience and demonstrate variation, the batsman have to get their dancing shoes on and the spinners... for years the question was, what spinners?

This time there's an answer and it comes in three forms. South Africa have a trio of spinners in each of their ODI and Test squads on the current tour of Sri Lanka and a central role for one of them. Imran Tahir has been identified by AB de Villiers and Russell Domingo as the go-to guy for both the ODI and Test series.

"In the past he has done really well for us, in the 2011 World Cup in similar kind of conditions," de Villiers said. "He is definitely a big part of our team. He is an attacking bowler and we're really excited to see him perform well in Sri Lanka."

Of Tahir's 13 ODIs, nine have been played in sub-continent conditions, which is where he has been most profitable. His 23 wickets - including the 14 during the 2011 World Cup - in these matches have come at an average of 14.21. Despite good numbers, Tahir didn't play an ODI for two-and-a-half years after the team's World Cup exit. He was only recalled last October after he reminded national selectors of his prowess in shorter formats on the tour of Sri Lanka.

Last August, Tahir was part of the T20 squad that beat Sri Lanka in their own backyard in a three-match series. He took a wicket in each game and showed excellent control with an economy rate of 5.25. That earned Tahir ODI recall against Pakistan in the UAE, where he was the joint second-highest wicket-taker with nine wickets at an average under 20.

In the return series in South Africa, Tahir was less successful. He took just three wickets at an average of 39.66 and was used only once in the home series against India. It suggests South Africa want to keep Tahir for subcontinent conditions, which might lessen his chances of earning a World Cup place. However, they would also depend on how he does later in the year, on visits to New Zealand and Australia.

Still, Tahir would do his chances no harm with impressive returns in Sri Lanka because South Africa regard this tour as step one in their journey to the World Cup. "We've still got 26 one-dayers to go before the World Cup, so it's quite a lot of cricket to be played," Domingo said. "When you get to the World Cup, you want to be confident, you want to be the top side, you want to be one of the teams to beat. Leading into the tournament, we want to get our positioning in the rankings a little bit higher and that process starts now."

Where Tahir is more certain of his place is in the Test side. After yo-yoing with Peterson for the sole spinner's spot over the last 18 months or so, Tahir edged ahead with his first five-for in Dubai and a decent showing against India in Johannesburg. He has been all-but-guaranteed the job of senior spinner in Sri Lanka, where South Africa acknowledge they will have to tinker with their team composition.

"Two spinners will be the way I suppose. One of the frontline spinners with JP will be our best call," Domingo said. "We are fortunate that we are always going to play one frontline spinner and then JP as a part-timer but I see him as a frontline spinner. So we do seem to have both bases covered. The conditions will determine the squad but it is highly unlikely we would go with three spinners. I don't think that is going to happen."

Dane Piedt is the other spinner in the squad, but the rookie only has outside chance of starting despite a strong domestic season which saw him top the wicket-taking charts. Since Domingo has ruled out playing both Tahir and Piedt - the specialist spinners - because he believes Duminy can do the job of a second spinner, it's far likelier Tahir will be in the starting XI and Piedt will find his role confirmed to the nets, the drinks duties and his own education.

Sri Lanka is the last place South Africa lost a Test series away from home, eight years ago in 2006. It is also the place they need to win if they hope to regain the No.1 Test ranking from Australia, who are a fraction of a point ahead.

The last time South Africa toured Sri Lanka, Nicky Boje was their only spinner. He took five wickets in the two Tests, both of which South Africa lost. Since then South Africa have relied on Paul Harris and Peterson to back up the seamers. But now conditions mean they need a spinner who can hold his own instead of an end and circumstances demand a wicket-taking spinner. Tahir fits that bill and South Africa are hoping he will be the answer to their spin question.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • brokeneffingarm on July 1, 2014, 13:49 GMT

    Imran has plenty of experience & being a leg spinner would help him a lot in sub-continential conditions.I believe that he is a much better bowler than his stats suggest since he has been bowling on surfaces that do not help spinners in any way. In conditions like these the only thing he has to do is to draw the batsman forward. The ball will do the rest of the work by itself.

  • SICHO on July 1, 2014, 11:17 GMT

    When it spins, Immy is up there with the best (if not better). In his last Test match in the sub-continent he outbowled the Pakistani trio of spinners, yes Pakistani spinners (Ajmal, Hafeez and Barba). So SL shouldn't fall in the trap of making dry pitches, unless they want Steyn and co. to run riot with reverse swing (remember PE?)

  • Nuwas on July 1, 2014, 11:00 GMT

    I'm glad according to the majority ( at least Indians) SL are underdogs even in our own backyard, not because of anything but due the mere fact that most of the teams fell in that trap underestimating our capabilities during the past two years or so. Nevertheless I'm looking forward to a cracking series

  • LALITHKURUWITA on July 1, 2014, 10:57 GMT

    This series will be a very difficult one for SL. SA is much better team than Poms even in away in SL. SL is only ahead in Spin department. My money is on SA to win both OI and Tests.

  • creebo777 on July 1, 2014, 10:07 GMT

    Why didnt proteas pick dane piedt for the odis to see how he goes...so stiaan van zyl might play in the first test with amla moving to 4,hope steyn can get some reverse swing,big vern needs to take early wickets with new ball,

  • on July 1, 2014, 8:59 GMT

    Tahir has come on leaps and bounds as showed during the recent T20 World Cup , although producing it consistently during a test is a different ask. But I think he will do well as especially bowling around one of the best pace attacks. Great series for a neutral too.

  • ksquared on July 1, 2014, 8:37 GMT

    Since Murali retired SL has played six test series at home, they have won 2(Bangladesh, Pakistan) drew 3 (WI, ENG, NZ) and lost 1(AUS). Both NZ and ENG were two match series while WI was rain hit.

  • CKfrombrisbane on July 1, 2014, 8:28 GMT

    SA will be hammered by giant SL . SA can not perform in subcontinent.

  • ITJOBSUCKS on July 1, 2014, 8:17 GMT

    @ electric_loco_WAP4 SL have failed miserably @ home ever since Muruli retired!!! Sl couldn't win test series in SL for for nearly 2-3yrs...Even teams like Pak, Nz have been able to drew the series.....How many test series SL has won(exlc Ban) since Muruli left the scene??

  • TJP1000 on July 1, 2014, 7:38 GMT

    Everyone's underestimating the SA bowling attack. Steyn is the best fast bowler in the world, regardless of the pitch or venue. Morkel showed glimpses of his ability in the PE test against Australia on a track similar to the sub-continent. Philander will chip away, but I agree that he might be the weaker link. Tahir has proved himself in sub-continent conditions and he will compete with the best of the spinners in these conditions. Then Duminy can hold up an end and break partnerships. I am more concerned about the batting line-up without Kallis gone. De Kock is a good prospect, but will struggle in SL. He should also keep if he is playing, not because he is a better keeper than AB, but De Kock's batting is better if he wears the gloves.

  • brokeneffingarm on July 1, 2014, 13:49 GMT

    Imran has plenty of experience & being a leg spinner would help him a lot in sub-continential conditions.I believe that he is a much better bowler than his stats suggest since he has been bowling on surfaces that do not help spinners in any way. In conditions like these the only thing he has to do is to draw the batsman forward. The ball will do the rest of the work by itself.

  • SICHO on July 1, 2014, 11:17 GMT

    When it spins, Immy is up there with the best (if not better). In his last Test match in the sub-continent he outbowled the Pakistani trio of spinners, yes Pakistani spinners (Ajmal, Hafeez and Barba). So SL shouldn't fall in the trap of making dry pitches, unless they want Steyn and co. to run riot with reverse swing (remember PE?)

  • Nuwas on July 1, 2014, 11:00 GMT

    I'm glad according to the majority ( at least Indians) SL are underdogs even in our own backyard, not because of anything but due the mere fact that most of the teams fell in that trap underestimating our capabilities during the past two years or so. Nevertheless I'm looking forward to a cracking series

  • LALITHKURUWITA on July 1, 2014, 10:57 GMT

    This series will be a very difficult one for SL. SA is much better team than Poms even in away in SL. SL is only ahead in Spin department. My money is on SA to win both OI and Tests.

  • creebo777 on July 1, 2014, 10:07 GMT

    Why didnt proteas pick dane piedt for the odis to see how he goes...so stiaan van zyl might play in the first test with amla moving to 4,hope steyn can get some reverse swing,big vern needs to take early wickets with new ball,

  • on July 1, 2014, 8:59 GMT

    Tahir has come on leaps and bounds as showed during the recent T20 World Cup , although producing it consistently during a test is a different ask. But I think he will do well as especially bowling around one of the best pace attacks. Great series for a neutral too.

  • ksquared on July 1, 2014, 8:37 GMT

    Since Murali retired SL has played six test series at home, they have won 2(Bangladesh, Pakistan) drew 3 (WI, ENG, NZ) and lost 1(AUS). Both NZ and ENG were two match series while WI was rain hit.

  • CKfrombrisbane on July 1, 2014, 8:28 GMT

    SA will be hammered by giant SL . SA can not perform in subcontinent.

  • ITJOBSUCKS on July 1, 2014, 8:17 GMT

    @ electric_loco_WAP4 SL have failed miserably @ home ever since Muruli retired!!! Sl couldn't win test series in SL for for nearly 2-3yrs...Even teams like Pak, Nz have been able to drew the series.....How many test series SL has won(exlc Ban) since Muruli left the scene??

  • TJP1000 on July 1, 2014, 7:38 GMT

    Everyone's underestimating the SA bowling attack. Steyn is the best fast bowler in the world, regardless of the pitch or venue. Morkel showed glimpses of his ability in the PE test against Australia on a track similar to the sub-continent. Philander will chip away, but I agree that he might be the weaker link. Tahir has proved himself in sub-continent conditions and he will compete with the best of the spinners in these conditions. Then Duminy can hold up an end and break partnerships. I am more concerned about the batting line-up without Kallis gone. De Kock is a good prospect, but will struggle in SL. He should also keep if he is playing, not because he is a better keeper than AB, but De Kock's batting is better if he wears the gloves.

  • sanjai_zequin on July 1, 2014, 7:00 GMT

    SA ODI XI : de Kock, Amla, Kallis, AB, Faf, Duminy, Miller, Steyn, Tsotsobe/Parnell, Morkel/Hendricks, Tahir.

    SA Test XI : Elgar, Petersen, Amla, Faf, AB, JP, de Kock/Parnell, Philander, Steyn, Morkel, Tahir.

  • on July 1, 2014, 6:25 GMT

    This is SA chance to win an important away series to keep the heat at the top of the rankings , be good to see how they go without Smith , Kallis away from home.

  • social_monster09 on July 1, 2014, 6:23 GMT

    @electric_loco_WAP4:- Yes i m with u in both of ur comments but I think (not only think) I m pretty sure that in any given condition on fast tracks or in SC pitches Steyn is the only bowler who is in the mind of opposition rest of them are average. Morkel is a useful bowler but only when where tracks are bouncy & pacey not in SC pitches & Philander is good where ball swings in air, this same problem is with Steyn too that's why he will not create too much threat to Lankan batsmen. Main problem of SA is their spin bowling department which i think weakest in the world right now. Without 2 good spinners you will never ever think to win in SC. But all in all two great contests are on their way SL vs SA & Eng vs Ind. As a neutral cricket fan I predict winners are SL & Eng not sure by what margin…

  • anver777 on July 1, 2014, 6:00 GMT

    "Expectations are High" on Tahir for this SL tour..... conditions will suit him & even I feel he will do something special on this tour !!!!!

  • on July 1, 2014, 5:44 GMT

    it will be a really difficult task for SA to beat SL in their own den considering the fact that SL is having a superb run in this year.SL have won all the series they played in this year.sanga & mathews are in great form together with the newly found pace battery.obviously SSC test will be a draw.let's hpe the test in hambanthota will give a resulta and the rain stays away.

  • Kavum on July 1, 2014, 5:42 GMT

    Imran go well me old son. Shows how much SAf cricket has integrated and developed young home grown talent since they were readmitted in 1992, that they have to play a Pakistani spinner. Apartheid is still alive and kicking in the Rainbow Nation.

  • stumpedlloyd on July 1, 2014, 4:56 GMT

    With only two tests being played in this series, why on earth are they playing one at the SSC? Five of the last seven tests, including the last three, have ended in dull draws. The last three tests played there have amassed 1,128 runs for 20 wickets, 1,284 runs for 30 wickets, and 1,478 runs for 17 wickets. Sri Lanka Cricket needlessly built two new stadiums, surely one of those could be used.

  • crzcric on July 1, 2014, 4:37 GMT

    @ Vickram Singh :Keep Dream buddy.Eng Will come hard at IND. The biggest Threat for SL Vs SA Series is rain.May be wet condition will give seamers good assistance. Hope rain stay away.

  • Udendra on July 1, 2014, 3:45 GMT

    I think Tahir will have a good tour in SL.

  • on July 1, 2014, 3:41 GMT

    The only Impact Is the Rain in this tournament , its raining cats and dogs in Sri Lanka

  • electric_loco_WAP4 on July 1, 2014, 0:27 GMT

    Apart from Tahir,SA have no other quality spin options.And against best sub cont. team in their own den and on a high after the Eng heroics.Even Tahir will be pretty easy deal for host bats.Looks like young SA team are in for 1st away series L in a while.

  • electric_loco_WAP4 on July 1, 2014, 0:15 GMT

    SA have a good pace attack.But apart from Steyn,maybe Morkel with new ball, they have few wkt taking options on Lankan's home pitches.Vernon's not more than a defensive stock bowler in these conds. having proved ordinary o/s of SA.Spin dept. is also bare.

  • electric_loco_WAP4 on July 1, 2014, 0:01 GMT

    SA are well and truly up against it vs a ressurgent SL on their own den.The enormity of it can be guaged from fact that after the great Aussies of past who W a series in '03,only team to beat Lankans @ home was Clarke's young Aussies couple of years back.

  • TommytuckerSaffa on June 30, 2014, 21:50 GMT

    Thats us South AFricans for you - risk averse and scared of trying a youngster.

  • on June 30, 2014, 21:10 GMT

    south africa is looking more strong team to win this series..may be the time to loose for all the teams to lose a test series in there backyard as srilanka beat england and now n.z beat w.I ..we can see s.a beat srilanka in test series and india beat england in their backyard.. yoy can say its the horror run for the hosting countries

  • on June 30, 2014, 18:32 GMT

    tahir in good form it is very good sign for sa. beating SL in SL is tough

  • axe_hay on June 30, 2014, 17:24 GMT

    Imran Tahir has struggled in the longer format. He is suitable only for ODIs and T20s. At 36 , he does not have too many years of Interational Cricket left in him.SA should invest in young spinners keeping the future in mind and should give a chance to Dane Piedt to bowl in sub-continental conditions. They look also look at grooming spinners like Simon Harmer, Shaun von Berg and Eddie Leie so that there are good options in the spin pipeline as well.

  • No featured comments at the moment.

  • axe_hay on June 30, 2014, 17:24 GMT

    Imran Tahir has struggled in the longer format. He is suitable only for ODIs and T20s. At 36 , he does not have too many years of Interational Cricket left in him.SA should invest in young spinners keeping the future in mind and should give a chance to Dane Piedt to bowl in sub-continental conditions. They look also look at grooming spinners like Simon Harmer, Shaun von Berg and Eddie Leie so that there are good options in the spin pipeline as well.

  • on June 30, 2014, 18:32 GMT

    tahir in good form it is very good sign for sa. beating SL in SL is tough

  • on June 30, 2014, 21:10 GMT

    south africa is looking more strong team to win this series..may be the time to loose for all the teams to lose a test series in there backyard as srilanka beat england and now n.z beat w.I ..we can see s.a beat srilanka in test series and india beat england in their backyard.. yoy can say its the horror run for the hosting countries

  • TommytuckerSaffa on June 30, 2014, 21:50 GMT

    Thats us South AFricans for you - risk averse and scared of trying a youngster.

  • electric_loco_WAP4 on July 1, 2014, 0:01 GMT

    SA are well and truly up against it vs a ressurgent SL on their own den.The enormity of it can be guaged from fact that after the great Aussies of past who W a series in '03,only team to beat Lankans @ home was Clarke's young Aussies couple of years back.

  • electric_loco_WAP4 on July 1, 2014, 0:15 GMT

    SA have a good pace attack.But apart from Steyn,maybe Morkel with new ball, they have few wkt taking options on Lankan's home pitches.Vernon's not more than a defensive stock bowler in these conds. having proved ordinary o/s of SA.Spin dept. is also bare.

  • electric_loco_WAP4 on July 1, 2014, 0:27 GMT

    Apart from Tahir,SA have no other quality spin options.And against best sub cont. team in their own den and on a high after the Eng heroics.Even Tahir will be pretty easy deal for host bats.Looks like young SA team are in for 1st away series L in a while.

  • on July 1, 2014, 3:41 GMT

    The only Impact Is the Rain in this tournament , its raining cats and dogs in Sri Lanka

  • Udendra on July 1, 2014, 3:45 GMT

    I think Tahir will have a good tour in SL.

  • crzcric on July 1, 2014, 4:37 GMT

    @ Vickram Singh :Keep Dream buddy.Eng Will come hard at IND. The biggest Threat for SL Vs SA Series is rain.May be wet condition will give seamers good assistance. Hope rain stay away.