World Cup: Imran Tahir, the smiling veteran

The South African bowler, who once worked in retail shop, is still going strong at 44

61-Imran-Tahir Illustration: Job P.K.

The fall of a wicket was like a starter pistol to Imran Tahir. It was a signal to run. No matter the batter, the leg-spinner was off, celebrating as if it were his last scalp. It is a childlike joy that lasts to this day. At 44, Tahir led the Guyana Amazon Warriors to their maiden Caribbean Premier League title on September 24.

In the 2019 World Cup in England, Tahir became the oldest cricketer to play for South Africa in the tournament. He was also the first spinner to bowl the starting over in a World Cup, and dismissed England’s Jonny Bairstow off the second ball. A T20 giant, Tahir was great in ODI World Cups, too, taking 40 wickets in three editions at an average of 21.17.

“It hasn’t been an easy ride for me as I remember working at the Pace Mall in Lahore at a retail shop where I used to earn Rs3,000 per month when I was 16,” he told The Express Tribune in 2015. “Since I was the eldest, I had no choice but to do what was required to support my family… I spent five years in South Africa playing domestic cricket and had to live hand-to-mouth for the first two years.”

Inspired by the legendary Abdul Qadir, Tahir had made it to the Pakistan Under-19 team. But progress was slow. He then moved to England for county cricket and eventually landed in South Africa. There, he became a valuable commodity. An attacking leg-spinner with a heart that would never quit. He served the country well for years, eventually becoming one of those nation-hopping talents who played T20 leagues around the world.

And not only did he play, he enjoyed every bit of it.

In the Pakistan Super League final in 2022, Tahir bowled a yorker to Mohammad Hafeez, who brought his bat down just in time. Tahir convinced his captain Mohammad Rizwan to take the review. He did. DRS showed the ball hitting the middle of the bat. The next ball, Hafeez played and missed; Tahir thought there was an edge and started running. There was no edge. Hafeez and Tahir squared up in the middle, both smiling and arguing, and separated after a fist bump. It was a final, but there was fun to be had. And by God, Tahir would have it.

It was in this T20 journey that he helped M.S. Dhoni’s team of veterans, affectionately called the ‘Dads’ Army’, to the IPL title in 2018. Going by his current run, he might soon be looking for a granddads’ army to join.