DURBAN // The presence of Imran Tahir, the leg-spin bowler, in South Africa's one-day team is a dream come true, says Graeme Smith, the Proteas captain.
Heading into his ninth year, and final series, as South Africa's one-day cricket captain, Smith said yesterday he always wanted an attacking spin bowler at his disposal.
He has it now in a former Pakistan A representative, who qualified to play for his adopted country on the last day of 2010 and has been rushed into the Proteas squad for the five-match series against India and next month's World Cup.
Smith said at Kingsmead, Tahir's home ground and venue for today's first one-day international (ODI) against India, that he hoped the highly-rated bowler could contribute to a winning end to his one-day tenure.
Smith, 29, will step down as ODI captain after the World Cup and wants to end "on a good note" in the final series.
"It [having an attacking spinner] is something I have dreamed of throughout my captaincy," Smith said. "It's an asset to have an attacking, wicket-taking option in the middle overs which we haven't really had.
"Johan Botha has been excellent for us ... but to have somebody like Imran who can take wickets and change the course of the game together with our frontline seamers is a wonderful asset."
The Pakistan-born Tahir, 31, could be the final piece of the World Cup jigsaw for South Africa, who have never won the tournament and often underperformed at the limited-overs showpiece.
Having traditionally relied on pace bowlers to blast out the opposition, South Africa now have an abundance of spin options in Tahir, Botha, an off-spinner, Robin Peterson, a left-armer, and another uncapped player, Faf du Plessis - who is a batting all-rounder who also bowls leg-spin.
Spin bowling is likely to play a crucial role at the World Cup on the slow, turning pitches in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
South Africa's spinners are three of a new breed of players in the country's 30-man provisional World Cup squad - with only Smith, Peterson, AB de Villiers and Jacques Kallis survivors from the 2007 tournament in the West Indies.
The ODI series against India, who are ranked second in the world, will be a crucial gauge of South Africa's one-day form ahead of next month's tournament.
The World Cup adds "extra incentive" to the series, Smith said, although it would not "define" South Africa's hopes.
"World Cup selection is just around the corner so it is a tough time because it's every player's dream to go to the World Cup," he said. "I guess there is a lot of extra pressure on players at the moment to perform.
"It's about finding the right combinations ... but at the same time we have to realise that the World Cup is being played under totally different conditions to what we will be playing here."
Smith also confirmed that all-rounder Kallis, who bruised a rib and picked up a right side strain in the final match of the drawn Test series against India last week, would play no part in the ODI series. His absence would "hamper" the Proteas, Smith said.
Kallis, South Africa's key player and the best all-rounder in the world, is expected to be fit for the World Cup.