IPL 2021: Imran Tahir determined to grab his chance if Chennai Super Kings come calling

After a season largely on the sidelines in the UAE, the South African is still optimistic for the 2021 season

It would be misleading to suggest Imran Tahir cut a doleful figure sat beyond the boundary, wearing the high-vis clobber of a drinks waiter for the majority of the 2020 IPL in the UAE.

Sure, he wanted to play. Who wouldn’t? And, given that Chennai Super Kings were so uncharacteristically poor, he must have felt he had the wherewithal to help fix the problems.

But did he ever appear sullen? Did he strop off at being overlooked? Not remotely. It is not in his nature.

Playing last season in Sharjah, Abu Dhabi and Dubai challenged the tried and tested methods of each of the franchises. The prevailing pitch conditions generally favoured seam bowlers more than is usual back in India – or at least in Chennai.

The conundrum was especially acute for a CSK side whose extraordinary success down the years – they had never missed the playoffs until last season – had been based on loading their side with spinners at a home ground conducive to that art.

When Tahir was sacrificed in the UAE, he understood. He ended up playing just three matches last season, but maintained an economy rate of 6.9 runs per over, which was the best of any Chennai bowler bar Josh Hazlewood.

The tournament has returned to India, but there are no guarantees a return to their old gameplan will reap immediate rewards for CSK. There are, after all, no home games because of how the schedule has been arranged to combat the effects of Covid.

So Tahir knows he is not guaranteed a recall to the starting line up straight away, but he says he will be ready if called upon.

"Playing for Chennai is an absolute privilege," Tahir told The National. "I have been involved with the franchise for the past few years and it is one of the top, top brands I have been involved with.

“The Chennai Super Kings are very close to my heart. I am not sure how the team will [be selected], and what the first XI will be on the park for the first game.

“I always look for my opportunity, and for me I need to be prepared for that. If I get the opportunity, I need to make sure I justify it.”

Tahir turned 42 at the end of last month. He has seen and done most things in cricket, but he acknowledges he still feels nerves when he plays.

“If you are not nervous, then you are AB de Villiers,” he said of his long-time South Africa teammate.

“He is the master, a super talented guy. But he also told me that he worked super hard for it. You always have to work hard, no matter how good you are.

“For me, I do get nervous, which is a good thing. It is more of a positive nervousness than a negative one. You have to be super good not be nervous.”

Between playing at the PSL at the start of March and the start of the IPL, Tahir had spent his time in Dubai rather than at home in Durban.

He kept himself in tune by playing club cricket in places as low-key as the remote – but delightful – grounds in Batayeh, amid the dunes midway between Sharjah and Al Dhaid.

The South Africa leg-spinner loved his time in a country that has featured in a number of high points in his nomadic career.

Such as back in 2013, when he revived a Test career that had suffered fearful damage on tour in Australia, as he took five for 32 in Dubai against Pakistan, the country of his birth.

At the end of that day of triumph, Tahir said he felt “more South African than Pakistani”, and he remains full of gratitude to the country he has represented more than 150 times in international cricket.

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“It is very difficult,” the Lahore-born spin bowler says now. “I am Pakistani by birth. That is absolutely fine for me. My dream was always to play for Pakistan.

“But for me to fulfil my international cricket dream, South Africa took to me with open arms. There was never one second where I thought people ignored me, or that I had to adjust to the culture because people were not supporting me.

“It has been an absolutely unbelievable experience, and I can never pay that back to South Africa.

“I am really, really grateful to Cricket South Africa and South African people, and the support of my wife and my family. Without their support, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

“That is why I feel South African. Every now and then I try to learn some Afrikaans words, and some Zulu words, because my son goes to the local school in Durban.

“If that’s not the case then I don’t feel South African. I appreciate every single thing, I love the country, and I love the people. I can say that I am proudly South African.”

And he remains hopeful he can still play a part for the Proteas in the future, too.

“I’m still available for T20, and am hoping to get into the World Cup squad,” Tahir said.

“I was in the group who was going to go to the T20 World Cup which was cancelled because of Covid. I had the signal that I would be part of it, and I am very much looking forward to it.

“I hope I have a great IPL, which is what they are looking for, I hope I have a great PSL if we get the opportunity to play, then I think it will be easier for me to get in.”