AFTER having played only three Pakistan Super League (PSL) matches, Imran Tahir already has the best average and strike rate for a leg-spinner to have bowled more than 10 overs in the history of the T20 league.

Donning Multan Sultans’ colours in the third PSL, Imran has taken seven wickets at 11.85 runs apiece. In a list of the spinners that include the likes of Samuel Badree, Shahid Afridi, Yasir Shah, and Shadab Khan, Tahir boasts a jaw-dropping strike rate of 9.7.

He has bowled the most variations amongst the leg-spinners this season, according to CricViz — a cricket data analysis company.

But his boundary percentage (boundaries conceded per hundred balls) is on the other end of the spectrum. His boundary percentage of 14.70 is the third worst, amongst the leggies with at least 10 PSL overs. Maybe it is due to his experimentation with his variations.

But, experimentation isn’t something that scares Imran.

His cricketing journey has been full of daring efforts. He began his cricketing career in Lahore and even played for Pakistan at the under-19 level. But when he failed to make it to the apex level, he tried his luck in county cricket.

Then he moved to South Africa. Some say it was because he realised the dearth of quality spinners in the country. Others claim his love took him there. Whatever the reason, at the end of the day, he materialized his dream of making it to the international stage.

He has since been a daunting figure in white ball cricket, winning matches singlehandedly for South Africa. He couldn’t enjoy that much success at the Test level. But, he continues to dominate limited-overs cricket.

Just last year during this month, he sat at the top of the International Cricket Council’s rankings for the ODI and T20I bowlers.

He thrives on the batsmen’s aggressive intent and wants them to go after him. He makes the batsmen lash onto the deliveries he hurls at them as a part of his malicious plan. But when he strikes, the batting sides realise that it was all a trap after all.

His wide range of variations makes Tahir one of the hottest properties in the shorter format. Not surprisingly, Multan Sultans bagged him as their platinum pick during the player draft for this season.

Seventy-two percent of his 189 scalps in T20 cricket have been right-handed batsmen. They find it difficult to play against the spin when he bowls his stock deliveries and their stumps come under grave threat when he bowls googlies — the most lethal of his variations.

His high-arm action, a trait not often seen in leg-spinners, allows him to target stumps on regular basis. He averages 21.14 in 146 T20 matches he has played so far and his strike rate of 17.3 is the best amongst the leg-spinners with more than 150 wickets.

His beard may have turned grey and he may be turning 39 next month, but his passion for the game is still alive. He still jumps all over the place while appealing to the umpire and sprints around the ground when he is granted a wicket.

His enthusiasm and insatiable hunger for wickets make him steal the limelight wherever he plays. In a short span of time, he has already transformed himself as a spearhead bowler in the Multan Sultans lineup, which is dominated by fast bowlers.

It won’t (and it shouldn’t) surprise many if he ends up at the top of the bowling charts at the end of the PSL.

Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2018

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