Imran Tahir will turn 40 two months before South Africa pack their bags for the 2019 World Cup. Any thoughts of retirement, however, are far from his mind as he focuses on staying at his best for what could be a career-defining event. When he does go, he wants to make sure it's with his head held high.

"I'm trying to go as long as I can," Tahir said as South Africa prepared for the second ODI of their series against Zimbabwe in Bloemfontein. "Make sure I enjoy my game and I give what the team requires of me. I wouldn't want to overstay in the team for too long. I want to leave with respect."

It's also clear just how much it would mean to Tahir to leave the international game a World Cup winner, and he said if South Africa did win the tournament, he'd probably "call it".

"It's a bit early for me to say anything [about retirement]," he said. "I'm loving the game at the moment. One thing I can say, if we win the world cup then I'll definitely probably call it. It's early for me, and I'm enjoying every opportunity I get to play for South Africa."

Tahir had been left out of South Africa's squad for their trip to Sri Lanka so that the coach and selectors could have a look at some of the team's other spin options - namely Tabraiz Shamsi and Keshav Maharaj. As a result, Tahir hadn't played an ODI since February before he returned against Zimbabwe on Sunday, but there was no rust on his wrong 'un as Tahir - ever the journeyman - spent his time 'off' playing T20 cricket in the Vitality Blast and the Caribbean Premier League. "I've been playing the game, which is very good for me," he said, "I'd rather be playing than having a rest."

Tahir picked up a Vitality Blast contract with Durham (astonishingly, the seventh county he has represented), and quickly allayed any fears over his sharpness in cricket's shortest, youngest format with 15 miserly dismissals, reviving his team's campaign. He then went on to play a crucial role in Guyana Amazon Warriors' run to the CPL final. He was the third-highest wicket taker at the CPL, with 16 scalps at an average of 17.75 and an economy rate of under a run a ball.

While his short format bowling rhythm is certainly in working order, maintaining fitness is particularly important for Tahir as he tries to stay in peak bowling condition, and he admitted that South Africa's training standards set the bar high. "I've been working really hard on my fitness," he said. "We've got so many fit guys in our team, so if you want to keep the standards up, a guy like me, I need to be really up from a fitness point of view and make an impact. It's going to be a challenge, but I'm the kind of guy who loves challenges.

"I'm trying to focus my training and take that into the World Cup. I'm developing some bowling and fielding plans and things like that. And preparing for some difficult times when I might need to bowl, and I need to be really up for it whenever the captain needs me to bowl."

In many ways, Tahir's situation is similar to that of Dale Steyn. Both are in the twilight of their international careers, vital cogs in South Africa's World Cup plans, and happy to fill a double role of mentoring and guiding the young players around them. Tahir is particularly excited by the prospect of potentially playing in the same starting XI as Shamsi, who he labelled a "mystery bowler".

"It's a really exciting time that we have another mystery bowler, Shamsi, and I'm really looking forward to playing with him if we play both together in any game. We do talk a lot about the game and make plans well in advance in any series or any game. And from my point of view I'm more than happy to help anyone who wants to talk about spin.

"It's nice to see the spinners coming up. I'm really looking forward to sharing my knowledge with him, and with all the spinners I play with, even at franchise level for Dolphins."

Indeed, Tahir's value to any team comes not just in the form of his nagging legspin variations, but in his immense, almost unparalleled experience in having represented no less than 37 professional cricket teams. He's picked up wisdom and dispensed advice virtually the world over.

"I always try to help spinners as much as I can wherever I go and play, anywhere in the world. I love to talk about bowling, and whoever comes for help I'm always there. Even in IPL, PSL, I try to help the youngsters as much as I can."

Tahir's epic cricket pilgrimage has taken him from age group to county, franchise to province, around the world and finally onto the international stage. The journey has made him the quintessential team man.

"I want to take as many wickets as I can for South Africa," he said. "But it's not always your personal performance. It's always nice when you do perform, but it's more important what the team requires from you."