'It wasn’t a plan': Why globetrotting South Africa star Imran Tahir is enjoying an unlikely spell in UAE domestic cricket

Proteas bowler currently playing for InterGlobe Marine where his infectiously upbeat attitude has made a huge impression on new teammates

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For a player of world renown, keeping himself busy between one major franchise tournament and the next, this felt like the most unlikely venue.

The village of Batayeh, halfway between Sharjah and Al Dhaid, is a quiet one, comprising not a great deal more than a couple of roundabouts, an abattoir and a co-op.

Unexpectedly, it also just to so happens to possess two high-spec, floodlit cricket ovals, which are a match for any of those which prevail elsewhere in a country well blessed with many such facilities.

When the grounds in Ajman were temporarily closed recently due to reasons related to Covid, it meant amateur cricketers had to look elsewhere for new premises. Batayeh was just the ticket.

And so it happened that this week, a side who started the game with nine players as two others were held up in work, and without a full set of matching kit, found themselves playing against an international superstar.

It was understandable the batsmen of Vision Shipping found the going tough against Imran Tahir. He does, after all have nearly 300 wickets in international cricket.

He is currently whiling away his time in the UAE before jetting to Chennai ahead of the IPL.

The postponement of the PSL because of the coronavirus meant he has had some extra time on his hands, so to stay match fit he has been turning out for InterGlobe Marine in UAE domestic cricket.

“It wasn’t a plan,” Tahir said of his extended spell living in the UAE. “I had to come to Dubai to travel to Australia for the Big Bash, then I had to come back to Dubai again to go to PSL. With the sad situation we are living in with Covid-19, I had to be stable in one place.

“Unfortunately, South Africa was under lockdown. I had to put my family somewhere. This was the right place as it was central, and I can travel around.

“I left them here and went to PSL. I came back, have played a little bit of club cricket for IGM, and it has been great.

“It is tough cricket here, a really good standard of cricket, and I wasn’t expecting that to be honest.”

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Tahir in action for InterGlobe Marine

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Tahir’s recruitment happened after a chance meeting when he went for a solo training session.

“We hadn’t met before, we didn’t know each other,” Tahir said of being befriended by one of his new teammates.

“I went for practice one day after getting a reference from someone. He offered me to play for the team.

“For me, that was a very good thing because I wasn’t aware of anything in UAE, in terms of who I could play for or anything like that.

“I ended up meeting the team at the first game, and really enjoyed it. I decided that before I went to any other competition this would be good practice for me.

"It is a good standard of cricket and it is going to help me going forward in the PSL and IPL.”

The name of his new team rolls easily off Tahir’s tongue. Which is achievement enough, given he has lost count of how many sides he has played for during his globetrotting career.

“It is a tricky one, and I’m often asked that,” the South Africa leg-spinner said.

“It is over 30, I think, but I can’t remember as there are too many. But I don’t think about it. It is nice that I have played for so many teams. That shows that wherever I have gone, I have tried my best.

“The good thing is that, if I had to go back to the same teams, I think they will have me. I have enjoyed my time wherever I went, I have made friends with people from different cultures wherever I went to play.

“That’s why I am here now. I respect everyone, I respect our team, and I want to win every game for my team.”

'A silent slap on the face'

That respect is voraciously reciprocated. According to Asim Shaikh, one of his IGM teammates, playing with someone as infectiously upbeat as Tahir is making them better people.

“After his first game, we had our dinner and everyone had left their disposable stuff,” Shaikh said of their first impressions of their ringer.

“We were packing to leave, then all of a sudden he put his bag down and went and picked up all our trash.

“There was another match following us, and he said: ‘I don’t want them to come to the ground and see there is trash, or put another burden onto the groundstaff. If you’re at home, you wouldn’t leave stuff out like that, you’d use the bin.’

“After that day, we have all changed our attitude and never left anything out. It has improved our characters.

"It was embarrassing for us, a silent slap on the face. I’ll always remember that moment about Imran Tahir.”

At the end of this month, Tahir will head to Chennai, and then on to Mumbai for the Super Kings’ IPL campaign.

He will turn 42 before the tournament starts, but he has no plans to slow down.

“I really wish that [he never has to retire], and I do think like that, but for that I do work really hard,” Tahir said.

“I keep myself fit. I need to eat well. I have been doing that for the last few years, especially being in the South African culture. In the Proteas culture, we are really loyal to what we say.

“When we are in the team, we train with loyalty. We respect each other, we respect each other’s cultures.

“It is something that motivates me to be where I want to be. I don’t ever want to finish cricket, but it is going to come to that point. At the moment, I am really enjoying my cricket.

“I was thinking I would only play this T20 World Cup which is ahead of me, but there are now three in a row. If I am performing, then why not [carry on playing]?

“I want to play all of them, but like I said, it is not in my hands. For that, I need to work hard, keep up with my fitness and perform in all the leagues I am going to play.”