Almost a decade after he had left for an unknown destination, Imran Tahir is back in his hometown as a ‘superstar’ to play a three match Twenty20 series against the country of his birth as a part of the ICC World XI. Talking to the media on the eve of the first T20I, Tahir felt honoured to be a part of the great cause.
“It’s kind of mixed feeling – very hard to explain, to be honest. Growing up, I always wanted to play for Pakistan. This [Lahore] is my hometown and home ground. So when I was approached for the series, my answer was an immediate yes.
The 38-year-old, who was born in Lahore, played a significant chunk of his cricket in Pakistan before moving abroad in search of other opportunities.
“I am very proud and happy where I am today and very grateful to the Cricket South Africa for the opportunity and letting me fulfil my dream.”
But the country’s security dynamics have changed since Tahir last played here. Since the 2009 attack on Sri Lanka team, Pakistan have faced an international isolation. However, Tahir doesn’t feel much difference.
“I can’t really say… Probably I have been a local and might think differently than others. I believe it’s absolutely fine. We had a practice session today, and hopefully, I would be saying in a few days that we had a great time. What I see is that people have a positive vibe about this and I encourage them to come and support this event.
Imran Tahir and Hashim Amla take part in a practice session © AFP
“I have played most of my cricket here. All my family is here. I also wanted to play for Pakistan. But as the fate had it… There are a lot of players in the world who have played for a different country than the one they were born in – it’s not just me. I enjoyed my first class cricket in Pakistan. It’s another thing that I didn’t get the opportunity. But I took it as a test and worked hard. And the rest is history.
“I am happy that I am here for a good cause, but sad that my parents aren’t in this world to witness this. But the rest of my family is here and it would be a dream come true to play in front of them here. I have come here with the belief that if I am involved in this, people will remember me in kind words and if I looked back ten years down the road and everything went well, I would be able to hold my head high and say: 'I was a part of this'.”
The star-studded World XI includes five South African players. Tahir was thankful to his international teammates that they believed in his word.
“Everyone asked me about it. And I told them with all the honesty about my experience as I visit Pakistan regularly. I told them very positive things. I am thankful that they trusted me and hope that everything goes smooth.”
Tahir is coming on the back of a county season in England where he represented Derbyshire in all three formats. Despite being familiar with the conditions in Lahore, Tahir was defiant.
“Yes, I know a bit about the conditions as I have lived here for a while. I have had some info about the pitch (which doesn’t look good for me), as it is expected to be flat. But I am looking forward to the challenge – playing in front of a capacity crowd in my hometown and my family.
“It’s all about the homework. I am here, I have acclimatised to the conditions and have done my work. I don’t have a magic wand; it depends on the day what I want to do. There will be two teams on the field and whichever plays well on the day will be victorious.”
The ICC Champions Trophy 2017 winners, Pakistan, are yet to play an international game since their victory in June. But Tahir said they know how good Pakistan are and what they are capable of.
“I think they are an outstanding team. I have played against some of them. There are a lot of youngsters in the team. They are a dangerous side, and they proved it in the Champions Trophy. Like I said earlier, it’s all about the homework. I am relatively more familiar with the conditions and will use that experience.
“Sarfraz is a good player of spin. Also Malik and Fakhar are in good form. But obviously, we are well prepared to tackle them.”
Tahir was also all praise for Pakistan’s young leggie Shadab Khan, who has cemented his place in the international side since his debut against West Indies earlier this year.
"There is no competition [with him], but there will be one when the match begins tomorrow.
“ He is a very talented youngster, and I wish him all the best. Everyone has their own talent and I believe that if I can change the game, that’s what matters the most. But at the same time, I would like to congratulate him on what he has achieved up till now.”
The leg-spinner will face stiff competition from the West Indian Samuel Badree for a spot in the final eleven and Tahir is ready to deny him a chance.
"You have to be on top of your game to be in the side," Tahir said. "I don't mind if he is selected and he performs well. But I would make sure that if I am drafted in the playing XI, I don't let him get in the side for the next two games as well. It is all a part of a professional rivalry."
The writer tweets @khaledumair