LAHORE: While the entire nation was caught up in the frenzy of the return of international cricket to Pakistan, a Pakistan-born South African star, Imran Tahir, was busy improving his bowling by taking tips from legendary leg-spinner Abdul Qadir at Lahore’s race course.
The South African international was with Qadir for the 90 minutes that I stood out waiting for his interview, and the humble and modest spinner was deeply apologetic for the delay and instantly got on with the conversation.
The Lahore-born termed Qadir as his biggest inspiration and was thankful that he had the opportunity to learn from a living Pakistan legend.
“It was Qadir who inspired me to become a leg-spinner and all I wanted to do in my life was become a bowler as good as him,” said Tahir. “I can’t be more thankful to him because whenever I come to Pakistan and ask for his assistance, he is always willing and ready to help.”
The 36-year-old hoped that the knowledge gained from Qadir would enable to him become a better Test bowler, as that is the area where he hasn’t performed to the level he has achieved in the limited-overs.
“I’ve learned a few things and now I would try to work on them. As far as my career in Tests is concerned, I would only play for respect and if I feel I’m not getting the same respect through my bowling, then only will I rethink about my career,” he added.
“Every opportunity I get is important to me, whether it be the Indian Premier League, other domestic competitions or international matches,” said Tahir. “My aim will always be to give my best for any team I play for.”
He has spent a nomadic career playing in Pakistan, England and South Africa for teams such as the South African national side, Delhi Daredevils, Karachi Dolphins, Hampshire, Lahore Lions, Lahore Ravi, Middlesex, Pakistan A, PIA, Sialkot Stallions, South Africa A, SSGC, Titans, Warwickshire, Wapda and Yorkshire.
Though he is now one of the most sought-after leg-spinner around the world, his early life was opposite to the way it has turned out to be.
The Proteas stalwart had to work at a retail shop in Lahore to earn a living in his teens and also spent two years in South Africa living hand-to-mouth. However, he never complained and never looked back and labels the time as the ‘best years of his life’.
“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. Since I was the eldest, I had no choice but to do what was required to support my family.
“But then the trials for Lahore’s U19 changed my life as I was picked up by Shahid Butt. I’ll always remain thankful to him,” he recalled.
Talking about his journey into the South African national side, he recalled that he had spent five years playing domestic cricket before getting selected for national duty.
“I spent five years in South Africa playing domestic cricket and had to live hand-to-mouth for the first two years. People generally have this perception that I just went to South Africa and got selected but that is not true. I had to earn my way through and I’m glad that my efforts paid off,” he added.
The leg-spinner also expressed his gratitude to Cricket South Africa (CSA) for recognising his talents and more importantly believing in his ability.
“I had a dreadful Test debut for South Africa but CSA and the team believed in my ability and stood by me. There is a huge difference in the mentality of South Africa and Pakistan because had I made such a debut for Pakistan, my name would have been stricken off without any hesitation,” Imran explained. “Wherever I am, I am because of South Africa which is why I kiss the badge with so much love and affection. All my teammates are really supportive and this motivates me further to return the favour through my bowling.”
The Lahore-born bowler recounted how his late parents Ramzan and Atiya Tahir always wished to see him don Pakistan’s national colours. Alas, that never came to pass, and it pains Imran how he could not fulfill this wish of his parents. However, he notes that he has moved past that and is happy with the way his career turned out with South Africa and really appreciates the support given by the Rainbow nation.
“My family and I have lived here [in Lahore] so there was always hope that I would play for Pakistan but I am happy with where I am in my career,” he added. “In fact I want to thank the South African nation for their support. I can’t describe that in words! They love me irrespective of my race and colour which is a very warm feeling.”
Tahir made a special mention to Pakistan first-class player Muhammad Masroor, who had helped the 36-year-old in his early days and had motivated him in following his dream.
“I would like to especially mention Masroor because he helped me when I wasn’t as rich and took care of me. Now I’ve heard that he has been appointed as the coach of Karachi and I would urge the Pakistan Cricket Board that such people should be encouraged as they only can realise the potential and difficulties at grass-root level. I also owe a big thank you to Pakistan’s former captain Rashid Latif who also supported me when I was nothing,” he concluded.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 23rd, 2015.