Faf mulling Tahir from outset at World Cup?
Cape Town - When the Proteas visited Sri Lanka for five ODIs two months ago, Imran Tahir was left out of the touring party.
He was not dropped, but rather rested so that the brains trust could have a look at Tabraiz Shamsi and Keshav Maharaj in the format as preparations for next year's World Cup in England continue.
In Tahir's absence, Shamsi shone and, for a brief period, it looked as if there may be some competition for the first-choice spinning option in this Proteas ODI side.
If there was ever any competition, it was short-lived, because Tahir has come back firing against Zimbabwe.
The 39-year-old took 10 wickets in three ODIs against the Proteas’ southern African neighbours to be named man-of-the-series, while he was devastating in Tuesday night's first T20I, leaving with figures of 5/23.
In the process, Tahir overtook Dale Steyn (58) to become South Africa's all-time leading wicket-taker in the format with 60.
It might 'only' be Zimbabwe and it was not in the format that matters most for the next few months, but Tahir's performance on Tuesday was significant because he took the new ball.
It is a tactic that skipper Faf du Plessis employed in the third ODI in Paarl, and he said following Tuesday's T20I that it was one he was considering using more in ODI cricket.
Tahir at the top of the innings is an innovation that will raise eyebrows. It is an exciting prospect and one that shows why Du Plessis is the man in charge.
On many levels, it makes sense.
The surface, of course, will always dictate the make-up of the side and how the Proteas go about their business, but Tahir's natural ability to pick up wickets is the reason for this consideration in the first place.
Tahir is, without doubt, one of South Africa's biggest weapons with the ball. He is a strike bowler; one of the best in the business.
Tahir's ODI strike rate sits at 23.75 currently. To put that into perspective, Steyn is bowling at 26.22 runs per wicket and Kagiso Rabada at 26.79.
Lungi Ngidi, just 10 ODIs in, is bowling at an encouraging 20.45.
But when one considers that Tahir has kept up those numbers 88 ODIs and 149 ODI wickets, it becomes clear just how important he is to South Africa's hopes of lifting a first ever World Cup trophy.
Depending on how Du Plessis and coach Ottis Gibson want to set up in England, there might only be room for two of Rabada, Steyn and Ngidi.
Rabada will play, while tough decisions might have to be made over Steyn and Ngidi.
They might play all three quicks and sacrifice an extra spinner or an allrounder, or they might prefer going batting heavy and backing the likes of Chris Morris and/or Andile Phehlukwayo instead.
There is still a long way to go when it comes to ironing out the combinations and finding the one that works best.
It is also important to acknowledge that this Tahir experiment is just that: an experiment. It has potential and, if it works, can open a lot of door for the Proteas, but it hasn't yet been fully tested.
When South Africa travel to Australia for three more ODIs later this month, that might be an opportunity to see if this plan has any real shot of making it to the World Cup.
English conditions, historically, suggest that the only option up front is to back two seamers with the new ball.
But the idea that this World Cup will dish up traditional swing and seam-friendly English wickets might be a bit of a myth.
Of late, English ODI wickets have been dry and flat to encourage big scores.
If that is the case, then unleashing Tahir from the word 'go' could work.
Good starts are always vital, and if South Africa's animated, evergreen spinner can get his side on the front foot early on, then why not?
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