Sunday, July 7, 2019

Imran Tahir: The Runaway (Success) Story

Cricket World Cup Match 48: Australia Vs South Africa, 6 July 2019: Imran Tahir got Aaron Finch caught at short covers and started running. "Don't stop Imran Tahir, let him run !" said a Commentator. That was perhaps the last time he was replicating his most ridiculed, his most famed and most memed run in a ODI match. Imran Tahir's story can easily go down as a modern day Urban Myth. Or it can be called a "Runaway Success Story".

Mohammed Imran Tahir was born in Lahore, Pakistan on 27 March, 1979. Eldest born in a huge family, Tahir's running began pretty early in life at 16, when he began working for a pittance at Pace Shopping Mall in Pakistan. He wasn't able to make ends meet and thus kept running.

In between, he bowled leg spin and googly and played for Pakistan Under 19 and Pakistan A team. In an era dominated by Mushtaq Ahmed, Saqlain Mushtaq and other spinners, Imran Tahir just couldn't make it to the next level. He ran away to English County.

At 23, he was so desperate for more chances and a better living, he ran away to South Africa. As starved for a class spinner as India were for a genuine fast bowler in those days, South Africa embraced Imran Tahir with both hands and ever since, he has done most of his running for them.

Imran Tahir and his young wife survived on meagre income in early days in South Africa. He even drove cabs and worked in factories. But the attitude and passion of the man kept him going. Finally he made debut for South Africa on 24 February 2011, almost 32 by that time. He made his test debut in November the same year.

Imran Tahir holds some excellent and some dubious records.

  • He was ranked No. 1 bowler in both ODI Cricket and T20 Cricket in 2017, at the age of 38.
  • In 2012, he bowled the worst bowling figures in a test match when he conceded 260 wicketless runs in 37 overs against Australia at Adelaide.
  • Imran Tahir has the best ODI bowling figures for South Africa: 7/45.
  • Imran Tahir became oldest Cricketer to represent South Africa in a World Cup at 40 years and 64 days.
  • Imran Tahir became the first spinner ever to bowl the first ball of a Cricket World Cup in 2019, that is 12th CWC. He also took the first wicket, that of Johnny Bairstow for a duck.

Imran Tahir could have been just another Cricketer if not for his struggles. Yes, people do struggle to achieve success. Imran Tahir ran his way to success. He ran errands in Lahore. He ran in with water bottles for Pakistan A. He ran away to English County. He ran away to South Africa and he kept running, every time he got a wicket.

Perhaps, Imran Tahir was reminded of all the struggles he went through and all the running he had done in his life. Perhaps, he was still on the run in his mind. Many people called it funny. Some called it silly. Some branded it childish and some dished out memes. But Imran Tahir kept running.

At certain stages it appeared as if South Africa had 10 people on ground just to stop Imran Tahir from running out of the stadium after taking a wicket. If former compatriot Shoaib Aqtar might stake claim to the record for running the longest yards before taking wickets, Imran Tahir has unimpeachable record of running the longest miles after taking wickets. It's nothing short of a wonder matches weren't interrupted thanks to Imran Tahir running out of the stadium after claiming an important wicket.

But whose wicket was it ? That seldom made difference to Imran Tahir's intensity or celebration. Be it Virat Kohli or Joe Root or be it Jaspreet Bumrah or Jimmy Anderson, Imran Tahir celebrated all the wickets as if it were his first ever wicket or perhaps 800th.

Close to 25 years have lapsed between the day he began running errands at 16 to the day he last played for South Africa. But Imran Tahir never grew up, he just grew a beard. He remained a teenager trapped in a body that grew older. Last night, he was a teenager with a dyed beard and the teenager ran again, perhaps for the last time on international scene.

In the process of all this running, Imran Tahir created another record. He holds the record for representing the maximum numbers of teams for any professional player in any sport. Yes, he has played for 27 teams in his career, across the globe in every continent with the exception of those places where Cricket is just an insect.

Imran Tahir is a myth that kept running and running. It was all a dream. When he woke up from the dream run, he had become the "Runaway Success story" that he will sit back and smile at. Or perhaps he will run again, from his living room into the garden with his family behind him, trying to stop him.

It's tough to judge if Imran Tahir was born to bowl those googlies. Several people have bowled them better, in his own lifetime. But it won't be an exaggeration if we conclude Imran Tahir was born to run after taking a wicket. Nobody ever bettered him there, nobody ever will !

If Bollywood ever decides to make a movie on his life, "Bhaag Imran Bhaag" could be the name. If Anurag Kashyap decides to direct, it could be "Bhaagta Tahir". Ayushman Khurana ought to be the ideal guy to play Imran Tahir's role. He already has the experience of running with the weight of an Earth on his back.

Bye Imran Tahir. If ever you end up with just one fan in the entire universe, this writer it will be.

Govind Raj Shenoy for DieHard Cricket Fans

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