Regarded as South Africa's main weapon of choice in the spin department, Imran Tahir began his cricketing journey in Pakistan before settling in South Africa. He debuted for his adopted country in 2011 and since then has taken over two hundred wickets in one hundred and eight international appearances.
In an interview with PakPassion.net, thirty-seven-year-old Tahir spoke about his struggles in the early part of his career as a cricketer, his move from Pakistan to South Africa to pursue his cricket career, his own passion for playing cricket, views on the bowling of Yasir Shah and his experience of bowling alongside Dale Steyn.
By Saj Sadiq (2nd October, 2016)
PakPassion.net : Any regrets on leaving Pakistan and Pakistan cricket to continue your cricketing journey in South Africa?
Imran Tahir: No regrets. It was in my destiny that I would go to South Africa and I'm really happy as to how things have worked out for me. I'm very grateful to Cricket South Africa for the opportunities they have given me and I will be forever thankful to them for the chances they have given me to enhance and display my skills to the world.
PakPassion.net : Was it a difficult decision to leave your friends and family in Pakistan and settle in South Africa?
Imran Tahir: It wasn't an easy decision for me but such opportunities and chances do not come around every day. To leave my family especially my parents, friends and my country was a very tough decision. But my wife was in South Africa and it was a decision that I had to make. It was one of those situations where in order to gain something, I had to lose something.
PakPassion.net : Have you ever wondered what might have become of your cricket career if you had opted to stay in Pakistan?
Imran Tahir: When I started playing cricket as a child and then through the grades and levels and onto First-Class cricket, my dream was always to play for Pakistan. That opportunity never came, but never mind, the chance for South Africa came and my path to international cricket came about as a result of moving to South Africa.
PakPassion.net : Having come through the Pakistani domestic cricket system, what are your thoughts on the system and its ability to keep on producing good cricketers?
Imran Tahir: The love and passion for cricket in Pakistan will always be there. Cricket in Pakistan is like football in England. The players will always be there and will be found because the vast majority of people in Pakistan want to play cricket and that natural talent will always be there irrespective of whatever the system is. When you have that natural talent in abundance then the good cricketers will always come through.
PakPassion.net : Having played around the world, what do you feel that the Pakistani domestic system can learn from the likes of the South African First-Class system?
Imran Tahir: That's a tough one for me to answer as I've not played domestic cricket in Pakistan for a long time. What I have seen of the South African domestic system is that it is very organised and for example the domestic fixtures are released two years in advance. The standard of the wickets also in South Africa is excellent and they encourage a high quality of cricket which is very enjoyable for the players and the people watching the matches and personally speaking, I've really enjoyed playing cricket in South Africa.
PakPassion.net : What are your thoughts on Pakistan's efforts during the recent tour of England?
Imran Tahir: Pakistan played some excellent cricket and I congratulate them for their efforts. It's not easy for any team to come to England and compete with the home team. All in all, they played some good cricket and they deserve a lot of credit for their efforts. It was a good series to watch because it was so competitive and hard-fought.
PakPassion.net : You've played for over 25 different teams, yet still exude the same passion and commitment for whichever team you are playing for. Is that difficult to do or something that comes naturally to you?
Imran Tahir: If the enjoyment, passion and commitment isn't there then that will be the day that I will stop playing cricket for good. I've always loved playing cricket; this was even before I played at the highest level and when I could only dream of playing international cricket and playing around the world. And now that I have reached the highest level of playing cricket, there is no such thing as relaxing and taking it easy.
I've made a lot of sacrifices to reach this level and there is no way I would give that up by not showing passion and commitment for every team that I represent. If you cannot give your all every time you go out there for any team, then you shouldn't be playing cricket. Playing around the world is not a holiday, it's about giving every ounce of energy for the team's cause. If you give your all and are committed to the team and play with loyalty then that is appreciated by your team mates and the fans and that is important to me. If you are just going through the motions as a cricketer then that is not acceptable and it's unfair on the people who have contracted you and the people who are paying to watch you play. My motto is simple, give your all or don't bother.
PakPassion.net : Your wicket-taking celebrations are known the world over. What goes through your mind when you take a wicket?
Imran Tahir: It's just natural, it comes from within. It's like a release of energy, which takes me back to the tough days I faced in my early days as a First-Class cricketer. It takes me back to the hardships I had to confront as a cricketer and when I take a wicket I tell myself to enjoy the moment and savour the moment as you have earned this good time.
PakPassion.net : Can you expand on the tough times that you mention?
Imran Tahir: I had big dreams but the early days as a cricketer were tough. Money was very short in our household and I had no job to support my passion for cricket. I was the eldest brother in the family so I had that added financial responsibility as well. There were times when I thought of giving up cricket altogether as things were not going well for me and that did have a knock-on effect for my family in Pakistan. But again this is where commitment and passion comes into it and that passion for the game carried me through the tough days and difficult moments.
PakPassion.net : Was your family in Pakistan always supportive of you becoming a cricketer, especially during the tough times that you mentioned?
Imran Tahir: My late father always wanted me to study, but my heart was in playing cricket. But he was very supportive as were the rest of my family once they realised that I wanted to be a professional cricketer. I would not have made it as a cricketer without the backing of my father and the rest of my family in those early days.
PakPassion.net : What makes a good leg-spinner?
Imran Tahir: Hard work is the key. If you are not prepared to put in the hours and work hard then you will not succeed. Secondly you have to have a never give up mindset and self-belief. I remember in my early days as a leg-spinner I only had two variations but I still played with the same passion that I do today.
I played as if I was the best leg-spinner in the world. If you have a couple of bad matches, get hit around and only have a couple of variations as a leg-spinner, then people start doubting you and labelling you as an average bowler; that is the time when you have to have that self-belief and confidence in your own ability. Even when I didn't have the variations I have today as a bowler, I had that self-belief that I would come good as a bowler and improve.
Leg-spin is such a difficult art and it can be easy to lose your confidence as a bowler especially when you are young and inexperienced and you can feel like you have let the team down and your frame of mind can become negative. It is that time when you have to remain positive and focused and think that things will get better, and that is exactly what I did.
PakPassion.net : What are your impressions of Yasir Shah who has made a very impressive start to his international career?
Imran Tahir: He's a world-class leg-spinner, a wonderful bowler and he has shown everyone what a great bowler he is. I pray that he gets even better as a bowler in future.
PakPassion.net : Yasir has stated that he needs to improve his googly. Any tips for him regarding this delivery?
Imran Tahir: I could only offer him advise him if I work with him and watch him bowl face to face. He looks an intelligent bowler and a quick learner and I am sure he will perfect the googly with some hard work. I remember I had no idea what the different types of googly were; the slower googly or the quicker one.
Also I had no clue what the flipper was or what a slider was, but it gradually came to me with experience and over the course of time. Perfection never happens for a cricketer, there is always something that needs tweaking or improving on. However, if he says he's not happy with his googly, then it's a fantastic achievement by him to take so many wickets without having perfected that delivery and once he has perfected the googly then I expect him to be an even greater destructive force against the batsmen.
PakPassion.net : You were left out of the recent series against New Zealand. Another comeback and selection must surely be on your mind?
Imran Tahir: Yes definitely. We have a series coming up against Australia and I'm hoping to be back for that series and really looking forward to it if selected. Australia are tough opponents and it's always a great series against them. So fingers crossed, hopefully I will get picked.
PakPassion.net : What's it like bowling alongside greats like Dale Steyn for South Africa?
Imran Tahir: Dale is simply one of the best bowlers of all time and a wonderful bowler to have in the same team. He's a match-winner and a bowler who can singlehandedly change a match in a short spell. He's taken more Test wickets than Wasim Akram and that is a fantastic achievement in itself. I've also been very lucky to have the honour and privilege of playing alongside Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith, AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla; these players are cricketing greats and I am honoured to have been in the same team as these legends.
It's not a small thing for me to have played alongside these great cricketers and it's something that I feel very proud of. It's a huge achievement and it also continues to be a big motivation for me as I want to continue playing alongside these greats in the coming months and years.
PakPassion.net : The young pace bowler Kagiso Rabada certainly looks like a fine prospect. What are your thoughts on him and his potential?
Imran Tahir: He's a very promising bowler. I think he will become one of the best bowlers in the world. He's already clocking 150kph, plus he's very fit and strong and I think he has a very bright future.
PakPassion.net : Do you think Mickey Arthur can take the Pakistan team forward?
Imran Tahir: Firstly I wish Mickey all the best in this role. I've not done a great deal of work with Mickey but I hope he turns out to be a good coach for Pakistan and can do a great job for them in future.