Imran Tahir reflects on 'amazing journey' as he prepares for 100th cap - 6 minutes read
Imran Tahir's solipsistic wicket rampages are not everybody's cup of tea. Some might argue, with justification, that in a team sport such as cricket, the direction of travel in that moment of exquisite release after the snaring of an opposition batsman ought to be towards one's team-mates (including the chap who has often just held a catch for you) rather than towards the most sparsely populated corner of the outfield.
But then Tahir's career has been uniquely reliant on his own sense of direction - whether that means emigrating from his native Pakistan for the love of a good woman (as he did in the wake of the 1998 Under-19 World Cup in South Africa), or making his international debut for that newly adopted country at the age of 31, and at the 2011 World Cup in India to boot.
So you could forgive him his glee on Thursday morning, when he conjured up South Africa's undoubted highlight of an otherwise chastening tournament opener against England. Not content with becoming the first spinner (the first non-right-arm seamer, in fact) to bowl the opening delivery of a World Cup, he followed that up, one ball later, by stopping the previously rampant Jonny Bairstow dead in his tracks for a first-ball duck.
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And so, while the wider focus for South Africa has to be on those inevitable early frissons of anxiety that only World Cup campaigns can cause, Tahir could be excused for taking a moment on the eve of the game to pause, to take stock, and to reflect on the prospect, unthinkable a decade ago, of playing in his 100th ODI.
"It feels really special," Tahir said. "It's been an amazing journey. I always dreamt that, but I never thought I will be here one day playing my 100th game for South Africa. It's an absolute honour and privilege, being given the opportunity by the lovely people from South Africa.
"I'm just really grateful to everybody, and I hope that from myself, that I give everything that I could for the country."
While he has clearly been living the dream for the past decade (and a pretty wild one at that, given that it began with him providing for his siblings by packing bags in a retail store in Lahore), Tahir knows that he is nearer the end than the beginning.
He turned 40 back in March, and at some stage in the course of the ten fixtures still available to South Africa in this tournament, he will call time on the 50-over leg of his international career at the very least. The World T20 in 2020 remains a plausible postscript for a player who will be returning to The Oval immediately after the World Cup to play for Surrey (his eighth county) in the T20 Blast.
"Obviously, if I look back, I'm really proud of myself," he said. "I'm the guy who come through a lot of hard patches, I've seen a lot of hardships. I lost my parents without them seeing me play international cricket. So these things are really special to me, and for my family.
"I have not seen my brothers or sisters in the last two years, so this country that I'm representing and every game I'm playing for is really important to me, and I'm really proud. I'm just really grateful to my family. They understand that, you know, I'm away from them, but there is an important reason for that."
Indeed there is. For all the talk of how the round-robin format of the 2019 World Cup can be forgiving to sides who make a slow start to the tournament, South Africa's itinerary is proof that there will be jeopardy at every step of the group stages. Defeat against Bangladesh - Champions Trophy semi-finalists and recent tri-series winners in Ireland - would leave them excruciatingly placed going into India's opening match in Southampton on Wednesday.
"Look, there is always a pressure if you play every game and especially when you are representing your country," said Tahir. "But you can take the pressure positively or negatively, and we are very positive. We have been beaten by a very good England team who has been dominating world cricket for a year or so, but we are going to learn from our mistakes."
Those mistakes, for the most part, were made by the batsmen whom Tahir admitted had allowed themselves to be rushed in the run-chase. Broadly speaking, their bowlers and fielders were exonerated after limiting England to a daunting but obtainable 311 for 9 - and Tahir was a key factor in that performance, thanks to that initial impact and the overall energy of his two-wicket display.
"I am the kind of guy who likes challenges and I like to think that my captain [Faf du Plessis] can give me a ball in any situation and I will be the first guy to say yes," he said. "It was a plan which I had been working on for the last year or so, so I think we knew that it was going to be pretty much a shock for everybody.
"It was a great challenge, bowling against two top players in world cricket who have been in form, and we were really pleased as a team with the way it came out."
The same strip will be in use for the Bangladesh match, which may tempt South Africa into a repeat performance (not that the man himself would be drawn). But whenever he enters the fray, you can be sure that further crucial breakthroughs will cause his team-mates to gravitate towards him once again ... wherever in the outfield his cavorting may carry him.
"I always look for one thing, and that's hard work and to never give up," Tahir said. "I know I'm the oldest guy on the team, which I'm really proud of, because playing on this team, you need to be very fit.
"I'm really enjoying my cricket. I'm enjoying my team-mates. I just hope as a team we have a great World Cup, like how we thought before we came to England."