They say the art of legspin is dead. Well, no-one’s said that really but I’m saying it to validate my argument, though actually there is at least some truth in there somewhere. Since Warney packed in test cricket for Indian 20/20, TV adverts and some stop off town in the Nevada desert, international cricket hasn’t exactly been blessed with fine legspinners. To prove my point I could just say Bryce McGain but that would be harsh. For example, Danish Kaneria is a genuine leggie but he just can’t seem to cut it consistently at test level. Mishra was good too but not good enough for the Indian selectors. Steve Smith tries his best, bless him, but he has a long way to go.
The fact is there is no Clarrie Grimmett or Abdul Qadir or even Mushtaq Ahmed out there. Except for one. Known to the casual cricket viewer as the guy South Africa tried to pick but then weren’t allowed to, most would dismiss Imran Tahir as just another spinner. Indeed his profiles that circulate the internet happily back this notion up. “A journeyman cricketer” and “Never fulfilled his potential” adorn quite succinct, cold descriptions. It could, and should easily be suggested that the people who have written these profiles have never seen Tahir bowl in the flesh. Instead basing their presumptions on the number of clubs he has turned out for in his career.
And yes, he has been a bit of a tart in that respect. Charles Babbage constructed his programmable computer with the aim of one day calculating Tahir’s number of clubs, as the abacus was not up to the task. There are more teams, spread out over Pakistan, England and South Africa that have printed shirts with ‘Tahir’ on the back than I can care to name (though the Water and Power Development Authority deserves a special mention).
Yet all of that is irrelevant in relation to his skill with ball in hand. For me Tahir represents everything that I love about cricket. Here is a man who is not a gym freak like an increasing number of cricketers. I doubt he spends any more time than he has to running and practising fielding drills. Batting is a bit of a laugh for him because his mind is focussed solely upon the talent that makes him oh so employable. With one sleeve up and one sleeve down, a brisk canter to the crease is the prelude to a little bit of magic. Warne’s greatest weapon was his stock delivery, though his variations were mightily effective too, whilst Kumble married the topspinner. Tahir has full confidence in his legbreak, but is equally adept at sending down the googly, topspinner etc. He also knows, down to a single delivery, when to bowl a particular variation. That is his greatest asset.
Often when you watch a normal legspinner (i.e crap one) you get the impression that a googly is bowled when the bowler feels like it, just to add a bit of variety to his spell. When Tahir bowls a googly you are under no illusions that the previous dozen deliveries to that batsman have been bowled with the sole intention of making the googly the killer blow. There is no sledging, or staring down the opponent, or unnecessary outbursts of frustration. He is simply too nice for that.
That’s not to say he is not passionate. Quite the opposite. All of those emotions, frustrations and feelings are stored up as the carefully constructed plan is executed, culminating in a personal victory. Be it the prize wicket in a final, or a tailender in a dead rubber, Tahir celebrates each and every wicket as though he had just found out that he has the only winning Euromillions ticket. Arms outstretched, head thrown back, shouting at the top of his voice and running to some distant part of the ground, Tahir is not only a joy to watch but he lifts the team around him.
I have always been sceptical of the idea of a talisman, as to win you need a team effort, but if such a person exists then it is Tahir. In 2008 he joined Hampshire in Division One with seven games left. Hampshire sat bottom with one win all season and almost certain to be relegated. In those last seven games, Tahir picked up 44 wickets at an average of 16.68, as Hampshire drew three and won four to finish third in the table. He breathes life into a team, bringing exuberance, energy and everything one associates romantically with a sub-continental bowler – mystery, magic, guts and some cavalier slogging with the bat. I’d go so far as to say that he is the greatest legspinner in the world currently, and not at all far off the greatest spinner. A lecturer of mine last year described watching a model steam engine in motion as “it’s, well, it’s effing orgasmic”. In my mind this wraps watching Imran Tahir up in a nutshell.
Imran Tahir is a window to another time, an ideal that is very nearly dead. One that says stuff your BMI readings. To hell with your score on the bleep test. Who gives a damn about how many reps you can do in a minute. You’re a bloody talented, thoughtful guy and you possess something that no number of coaches and back room computer analysts can teach. The shape and size spectrum in cricket is sadly diminishing but there will still be those that champion talent over physical ability. Tahir is one and for as long as he plays, I will be in love with the diversity of cricket, and above all the art of legspin.
2015 Cricket World Cup Champs!
2 years ago