Warne is credited for reviving the art of leg-spin.
Abdul Qadir is hailed for possessing the mystique that most connoisseurs of wrist-bowling couldn’t find even on their best days.
Murali made 800 cobwebs of deception in Test match cricket, his way of breaching the batsmen’s defenses. Kumble is revered for breaking batsmen’s confidence and excelling even on days where his jaw was supported by bandages.
What did Imran Tahir bring to South Africa, and in effect, the game?
Never before has a bowler been loved for something as uncanny as his manner of celebrating a wicket.
Running insane with arms wide open.
Bustling with endless reserves of energy that seemed sufficient to reach the party-popping bylanes of Jamaica from the embankments of the Orange River.
Never again shall a bowler be spotted darting around the ground with uncontrollable excitement, celebrating not just his wickets, but others’ too.
Together with Morkel pouncing on well-set batsmen using short-pitched deliveries or with Steyn sending the stumps into cartwheeling motion, Tahir joining in the celebrations united the Proteas.
The game became South Africa’s. The fan felt the fire.
Imran Tahir wasn’t, isn’t the greatest leg-spinner in the game.
Nor do Imran Tahir’s records fatten books dedicated to the accomplishments of spinners.
His action didn’t immediately confuse batsmen. Nor was his frame nowhere as threatening akin to a Lance Gibbs reaching out to Richie Benaud or an Ish Sodhi approaching Prithvi Shaw.
But on each occasion where the wily leg spinners exited his grasp making way to the batsmen, cricket seemed larger than life.
Tahir colored it with rich passion.
In a game that makes love to statistics, Tahir wasn’t the high priest of voodoo magic. Well, the status of magicians had already been anointed to the likes of Warne- over 1,000 international wickets and Murali- over 500 wickets in both forms, 1300 dismissals (in all).
But Imran Tahir’s achievements- the only South African bowler to take 7 wickets in an ODI, the fastest Protean to 100 ODI wickets- speak volumes about a man who didn’t come from within and was an ‘outsider.’
What was more beautiful- South Africa adopting a Pakistani as one of their own or Tahir’s endless zeal for his adopted homeland for it allowed him to find his calling- we won’t know.
But it doesn’t matter.
Often, it takes a tiny spark to create an inferno. Cricket was, ultimately, the greatest earner of this camaraderie.
For every mighty six powered by Gayle, every blinder plucked from the thin air by Watson or Jadeja, and every wicket uprooted by Starc, Imran Tahir’s beautifully flighted deliveries and animatic celebrations broadened cricketing spectrum.
It was as if, sheer grit empowered one of cricket’s truly persisting exponents to make a place in an age where spinners seemed an appetizing meal for batsmen and the white ball that object which was more suited for the stands, not so much the disturbed stumps.
Of the 10,311 times that he came into bowl, a wicket was clinched on 293 occasions, which means a batsman was made to walk back on every 35th ball.
Yet despite bowling South Africa to mighty spells, some that came immediately upon his entry, for instance, his 14 wickets (2011 WC) at an economy of just above 3.7 in the very first series of his career- with Sachin, Gayle, Sehwag, Watson, Strauss, Afridi confronting him or that miserly effort of 5-for-23 against Zimbabwe (in First T20, Bulawayo 2018), Tahir never remained scornful about how little was he celebrated.
Or for that matter how less was spoken for him when here was a man who fist-pumped his way taking 63 wickets from just 38 outings.
And in doing so grabbed 2 four-4s and as many fifers in the game’s shortest format, which seems an open invitation for batsmen to have a ‘go’ at the bowlers.
Did Cricket miss a great opportunity of iconizing Imran Tahir as the poster boy of T20 success, a format where he ended with an economy of 6.7 and an average of just 15?
In fact, have we even been fair to Tahir, whose greatest hits- 2016-18 yielding 67 of his 173 ODI wickets- occurred during the very period where uninspiring shifts dampened South African cricket, AB nearing the end of his journey, Amla amid a nosedive in form, with Steyn already away from international action?
Moreover, whose loss is it anyway that one didn’t even celebrate Imran Tahir (who wasn’t even born next door to South Africa but in Saqlain Mushtaq and Asif Iqbal dominion) with the same vigor with which one decried the loss of genuinely outstanding talents to Kolpak?
Remember Andrew Strauss.
Remember Kevin Pietersen and Kyle Abbott.
For someone who arrived at 32, an age where most talents usually hit the peak, does it occur to us that Imran Tahir nearly overachieved, exiting at dot 40, playing the game he would trade his life for, for flat 8 years, from which he found fans, made way into record books and played to the game with the unquestionable desire to succeed?
How else would you describe awe-inspiring numbers such as being the joint-quickest with Allan Donald to 150 ODI scalps? How can one turn away from the events shaping at Pakistan’s seemingly impenetrable fortress Dubai, 2013, where a Misbah, Younis, and Azhar Ali-powered Pakistan were brought to their knees by Tahir’s 5 for 32?
The world mustn’t wait for some futuristic trump card moment such as Tahir opening grand spin academies to hail one of cricket’s vastly undersung characters.
It’s the same way one mustn’t forget that despite not having the quickest feet on the ground or a chiseled frame, it was Tahir, not Morkel, Steyn or Shamsi who persisted in these last few years to oppose those who questioned South Africa’s might.
In fact, lest it isn’t misunderstood, maybe a lack of Imran Tahir in our cricketing conscience seems right.
Just the way it probably didn’t when the world collectively failed to champion the cause of the underdog.
Each time where we didn’t afford Shivnarine Chanderpaul the space he always deserved but never got, for we knew that upon Lara’s departure, all eyes would come to behold an unusually captivating sight.
Similarly, when we stopped at just the great Murali and in doing so, restricted ourselves from appreciating one of his undersung compatriots.
Maybe cricket outlives the lie each time it finds in lion-hearted competitors like Tahir that it isn’t about bulging biceps or the milestone.
That it’s really about the measure of the individual’s will to fight.