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Imran Tahir

Tahir stars as South Africa triumph in T20I opener

SA v Zim, 1st T20I, report

An Imran Tahir-inspired South Africa beat Zimbabwe by 34 runs in the first T20I in East London, South Africa, on Tuesday 9 October.

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The leg-spinner posed all sorts of questions and Zimbabwe’s batsmen failed to provide the answers, as the veteran claimed a five wicket-haul inside 2.5 overs. Earlier on, Rassie van der Dussen excelled on debut with a mature half-century, as the Proteas posted a respectable 160 – a total Zimbabwe never looked like chasing until an elating late-order recovery.

The hosts won the toss at Buffalo Park and opted to swing the blade first up, but Gihahn Cloete produced an unfortunate start to his international career when he edged through to Hamilton Masakadza at first slip off the bowling of Kyle Jarvis. Quinton De Kock didn’t last long either, top-edging a short-arm pull into the deep off Chris Mpofu to make it 11/2.

Faf du Plessis didn’t let his side’s shaky start deter him; he was particularly brutal against the left-arm spin of Tendai Chisoro, opening himself up and smashing the ball over the off-side ring-field.

The skipper’s strength turned weakness, however, when he picked out the off-side sweeper off the bowling of Brandon Mavuta. Zimbabwe had identified the batsman’s inclination and adjusted accordingly. South Africa were 50/3 after the first Powerplay, which included six fours and three sixes.

South Africa's leader had done the bulk of the damage – 34 off 20, including five fours and two sixes at a strike-rate of 170 – but Rassie van der Dussen, on debut, and the experienced David Miller found form, scoring at around a run a ball and laying foundations.

With the likes of Brandon Mavuta and Sean Williams bowling tightly, you could feel the South Africa’s batsmen’s frustration, until Miller slogged one into the leg-side stands off Williams to alleviate a hint of pressure. The duo were running well and taking advantage of the odd Zimbabwe misfield, and began to up the ante.

South Africa were 124/3 after 16 overs, with a strike-rate of 7.75, with the duo giving South Africa’s lower-order the license to deliver a late-innings onslaught. Van der Dussen caressed the ball straight down the ground to reach his maiden T20I fifty on debut, before Miller was caught impressively at long-off by Musakanda, only to find he had overstepped the rope.

Miller (39 off 34) soon departed in similar fashion, though, caught by Williams off Jarvis after being deceived by the slower ball – an art Mpofu was also getting value from at the death, despite five wides undoing some of his solid work. The fast bowler put an end to van der Dussen’s impressive introduction (56 from 44 balls).

Christiaan Jonker skipped down the track to bludgeon a massive six towards straight-midwicket before Zimbabwe’s captain, Hamilton Masakadza, claimed a brilliant grab at extra-cover. South Africa finished their innings on 160/6, owed largely to their middle order.

After a slightly extended interval due to dew, it wasn’t long before Imran Tahir, one of only five bowlers to claim an international five-for in all three formats, paraded his trademark celebration, exuberantly wheeling away after bowling Chamu Chibhabha with a slider, before nabbing Masakadza with a stone-wall lbw to make it 11/2.

The veteran leg-spinner then removed Musakanda with a quicker ball that yielded a bit of extra bounce as the right-hander fended it off his hips only to find de Kock’s gloves, who made a valiant diving catch. Tahir had three scalps in four deliveries and South Africa were firmly in the driving seat.

Brendan Taylor and Sean Williams regrouped, ticking along nicely – but not alarmingly for South Africa. They needed to replicate the van der Dussen-Miller partnership, but Taylor (19 from 23) attempted to nudge a bouncer over de Kock but the keeper stuck out his left paw to take a tidy catch off Junior Dala. If the visitors were to prevail, they perhaps needed their talisman to get them a little closer to the target.

Tahir returned, already with 3/12 under his belt, and cleaned up Williams to become South Africa’s leading T20I wicket-taker, before sending back Elton Chigumbura – lbw via another on-the-money googly to a new bat. The twirler (5/23) found himself on his second hat-trick attempt of the innings and was loving life.

Peter Moor represented Zimbabwe’s last hope, but it was a tall ask. He hit four successive sixes after Tendai Chisoro’s departure, as left-arm spinner Tabraiz Shamsi was put to the sword. The onslaught made for incredibly viewing, but surely it was too little too late?

When Mavuta sent the first two balls to the boundary the next over, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was game-on. Forty-eight from 28 was required – very achievable in the modern game. What a difference six ball makes! The unconventional Mavuta swung the blade for another maximum, before Dala got his man caught at third man.

Jarvis didn’t last long and the brilliant Moor eventually succumbed to Phehlukwayo, as South Africa claimed victory in the first T20I of the three-match series. South Africa will be buoyed by van der Dussen’s debut airing and thankful of their world-class spinner, but Zimbabwe will also take comfort from standing tall in their pursuit, led by the boldness of Moor and Mavuta.

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