Tuesday, 22 November 2011


And so, finally, it came to pass: after a long journey from Lahore to Durban via Stoke-on-Trent, and an equally arduous existential journey – changing his nationality, no less Imran Tahir, at 32-years-young, fulfilled a lifelong dream and played Test cricket. Regular visitors to this blog (ha ha!) will know that I have written previously about the much admired former professional of Moddershall CC – at the time of his bow in international cricket at this year’s Cricket World Cup, to be exact – and these achievements feel as gratifying to all those who shared three great seasons with him at Barnfields after he had been signed from Norton-in-Hales in 2004 (for whom he took just 7 wickets in 4 games against Moddershall as we picked up 95 points and four wins; even so, it was still a pretty safe punt, we felt...) as I am sure they feel for him.

With Immy as pro’ and yours truly as captain, Moddershall won the Staffordshire Cup in 2004 whilst losing the final of the Talbot Cup that same year to Audley – a day that began for me in Cambridgeshire with an almighty hangover; a game in which I not only skippered but kept wicket, too (reluctantly, as always), and in which Immy repeatedly forgot to give me the signal that the googly was coming (a scratch of his bowling mark), these balls thus being not only too good for TP Singh, their left-handed pro, but also the ‘keeper that was to have stumped their dangerman… The following year, we almost, almost pipped a super-strong Longton side, spearheaded by Alfonso Thomas, to the Premier League title, having had our club game watched by then Pakistan coach, the late Bob Woolmer. Then, after a two-year hiatus for us both – Immy at Meir Heath and up north, me at Wollaton in the Nottinghamshire Premier League – we pulled off a truly remarkable North Staffs & South Cheshire League title victory in 2008, a season in which Imran first started to flicker more brightly on the wider cricketing consciousness.

Today, if not quite yet a superstar, he is certainly very highly regarded, enough to be frequently spoken of as the missing ingredient in the South African attack. Indeed, that was the thrust of the ever-brilliant Barney Ronay’s piece on The Guardian’s website last week, which describes the “hitherto globetrotting Pakistani impresario of the leg-break and googly” as “the most familiar of debutants, a baby-faced 32-year-old” and “bowler of rare talent”. His conclusion? “South Africa, twenty years after re-entry in international cricket, finally have a proper spinner”.

Now, if you take a quick squizz ‘below the line’, you’ll notice that a certain ItsGoingIrish left a comment that, at the time of writing, has received 59 anonymous ‘recommends’ and several heart-warming, pseudonymous responses further down the thread. Indeed, the author himself tweeted that the post was “easily the best thing” about his article. It is an uplifting tale (I assume Mr Ronay was talking content, not form). 

My post – for ItsGoingIrish is I; it s a fair cop, guv – sought to let the wider cricketing public know just what a solid chap Immy was – is – by telling the story of his efforts for Moddershall in 2008, efforts that, if not quite above and beyond the call of duty, were undoubtedly something that spoke of a loyal, committed, and devoted cricketer, as well as a thoroughly genuine bloke. (I should point out, by way of counterpoint, that it’s none too difficult to think of another Imran that played for Moddershall, one who – as a man of slightly more self-regarding bent and not quite so much of a team player, truth be told – would not, I think it’s safe to say, have schlepped across the country out of any sense of ‘moral duty’ to help our club. Or any club, probably.)

Champions' post-season de-brief

Anyway, here’s the tale I posted, with a couple of slight amendments for the sake of colour and/or clarity (albeit maintaining the brevity with which I’m not usually associated):
    In 2008, Imran was playing for Moddershall in the North Staffs & South Cheshire League, wheeling away uncomplainingly, bagging his five- and seven-fers, pestering the groundsman to play on the same track next game (we did, several times, and Kim Barnett’s face was a picture when he saw one such Bunsen), and badgering me to move up the batting order from No7 (I occasionally let him swap with me at No6 but he hardly ever played the situation: heart-attack material).
     And then, out of nowhere, Hampshire signed him.
    Our chairman at the time, being the sort of trusting soul readily found among the armies of volunteers who put their love and sweat into England’s many cricket clubs, was perhaps not the best man to deal with Imran’s new – a few days new – agent, and so, with this agent telling Hampshire CCC he had some spurious verbal agreement with us, the club found itself having to haggle with Hampshire over compensation.
    Forcing Immy to keep his contract with us (even though we were in our rights to do so) was not an option, as we had no desire to stand in the way of his cricketing ambitions, naturally, but it’s fair to say that Wee Club in the Shires were not really being heard, or even listened to, by the county club, who merely referred us to the agent. The agent offered us a derisory sum, one far short of the remainder of his deal – and that’s without even considering the rent on his house (6-month contract), the return airline ticket (and we’d need another for any sub we’d have to fly in ... although that was the time the UKBA and ECB regulations started to make this a very protracted procedure indeed), the car...
    In the end, the agent told us we would have to get further compensation from Immy himself. We tried Hampshire again, actually threatening them with holding Immy to his contract. Nothing.
    More than a little vexed, Immy looked at the remaining fixtures of both Hants and ourselves and told me that he’d be free to play 5, maybe 6 out of 9 games (we were second in the table at the time) and that he’d inform Hampshire that he wanted to play for us whenever possible (and remember, by this time he’d had a couple of false starts with his county career, at Yorks and Middlesex, so wasn’t in a strong position to start making demands).
    It turned out that, for the rest of that season, we played only once without him (another game was abandoned after we’d hired ex-Zim seamer Gary Brent as sub, an absolute gentleman who refused his payment, taking only petrol money) and went on to win the Premier League title on the last afternoon, Immy making a golden duck, as it happens, but celebrating the crucial bonus point-securing wicket with a run and scream every bit as intense and sincere as those at the CWC in March, or during his record-breaking debut 12/180-odd against Lancs at Old Trafford.
    He finished that season with 44 wickets in seven Championship games for Hampshire, as they avoided the relegation that had seemed likely when he joined. For Moddershall, it was 80 at 11. But by far the most significant statistic was the mileage Imran did on the motorways in order not to let us down.
    On one occasion he phoned at 4pm on a Thursday afternoon, tea on Day 2 of a Champo game, saying it’d definitely be finished by the “end of tomorrow” and that, after all, we wouldn’t need a sub for the weekend (he was right). On another, he finished a Championship game at Southampton on the Friday, played for us in Stoke on the Saturday (skipper asking him to bowl unchanged from one end), then CB40 in Taunton on the Sunday. This was dedication, love, generosity.
    Imran played three years with us and I never once heard anyone say a bad word about him. If rewards in sport were doled out on the basis of the size of a player’s heart, Immy would have a glorious 3 or 4 years in Tests to adorn his career.
    A fine man, indeed.
Immy, fingers at Barnfields are crossed for you. I hope the rest of your leg-spinning days bring plenty of successful miaows... 

* You may also enjoy the comparison of Imran's spell at Moddershall with Rangana Herath's 

1 comment:

Julian Byrne said...

Scott, what a wonderful tribute to a very fine man.
Would you mind if I added something?
My Dad, Austin, the former chairman of Bignall End CC died in the summer of 2000 and the following year, Andy Clarke, our professional (and my lodger) at the time, organised a charity match in support of the cancer ward that had looked after my Dad so well. Immy, after hearing of the game, was the first to contact me offering his services, and he continued to do so in each of the years that we held the charity match.
What a genuine and professional ambassador to our game, our League, Moddershall CC and I'm sure Meir Heath and Norton-in-Hales.
He truly deserves the recognition that he is finally getting (Although he did get me with a very dodgy LBW back in 2000!) and long may his success continue.
Well done again for your piece, Ju