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Having overcome various challenges in his cricketing journey, Imran Tahir's conviction was at the fore once again as he helped South Africa stave off an embarrassing loss to Netherlands
March 27, 2014
Highlights - Imran Tahir spins South Africa to victory with 4 for 21
Imran Tahir never stopped believing. Not when he moved from Pakistan to South Africa and put a potential international career on hold with a qualification period. Not when he was picked for his adopted country but then prevented from playing because they thought he was prematurely eligible. Not when he was eventually legitimately selected but struggled to make an impact because he was surrounded by seamers who did early damage. Not when he was dropped after conceding Test cricket's worst figures of 0 for 260 and definitely not against the Netherlands on Thursday afternoon.
Before the match, most would have agreed with his convictions. On paper, South Africa against Netherlands is as much a mis-match as history has proven it to be. In the four ODIs they've played against each other, South Africa have won by massive margins, the smallest being 83 runs. The teams had never clashed in the shortest format but after the Dutch showing against Sri Lanka, it seemed South Africa would not have much to worry about.
But after they were restricted to a below-par total and Netherlands had raced to 63 for 1 in the Powerplay, needing only 83 off the last 14 overs, belief was exactly what was needed for South Africa. Luckily for them, Tahir had it.
"I had this belief that we could win this game," Tahir said afterwards. "Over the last two years, we've been involved in games like this and for most of it, we were on the winning side."
You only need to look at the first two matches South Africa have played in this competition for evidence of close encounters. Tahir was involved in both. He struck the blow that put them just six runs short of the 166-run target Sri Lanka set them and left South Africa wondering what could have been. He took the big wicket of Brendon McCullum that helped South Africa claw back into the match and they went on to beat New Zealand. And he sowed the first seeds of faith when he bowled a tidy over to halt a Netherlands' juggernaut that looked set to cause the biggest upset since Ireland in 2011.
When JP Duminy bowled Stephan Myburgh, Tahir's hopes would have grown a little. And they swelled when fortune smiled on the legspinner - it was his birthday after all - and Wesley Barresi was out lbw to him, even though replays showed the ball was going down the leg side.
South Africa built pressure but with a courageous Netherlands captain and Tom Cooper still at the crease, it was advantage Associates and Tahir knew it. "There were stages where you think the game is over but it was a great team effort," he said.
After Borren swept one time too many against Tahir and Dale Steyn had Ben Cooper caught behind trying to take evasive action, South Africa had reason to breathe easy despite the situation.
"I didn't feel that it was over - well maybe I did for a second - I just had that somewhere in myself that we were going to do it," Tahir said.
He ended up being the one to make it happen. Tahir's double strike to remove Tom Cooper and Pieter Seelar meant South Africa were into a fragile tail and even though the equation wasn't in their favour, they could relax a little.
That pair of scalps in the 14th over also gave Tahir his career-best returns in T20s and made him South Africa's highest wicket-taker in the tournament so far, apart from the highest in f the Super Ten stage of the tournament. Having only made his international debut in the format eight months ago and having played just ten matches, it says a lot about Tahir's ability in the shortest game and, he thinks, the impact a spinner can have. "Any spinner can change the game. It's been proven in T20 cricket," he said.
Tahir thinks there is a secret to success for attacking tweakers, although he is not willing to divulge it all just yet.
"You just need to go into matches with a clear plan in T20 cricket. If you go half-half, it's going to be really hard to come back," he said. "I am not going to tell you what I've been thinking but I've got clear plans on what to do to against each batsman. So you go with a clear plan and back yourself."
The only person not convinced there's any magic at play is Borren, who struggled to hide his irritation with the way his batsmen approached Tahir after they were talked up as being vulnerable to variation.
"It's unorthodox but it's legspin - he's bowling googlies and quicker legspinners, it's not something completely mysterious," Borren said. "We just made bad decisions, playing across the line. He bowled well, we know what he can do and we know that's what he's going to bowl. It was just poor decision-making."
And, if you ask Tahir, maybe not enough belief.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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