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South African leg-spinner Imran Tahir is probably one of the most passionate cricketers in the world. His enthusiasm for the game is evident in his trademark wicket celebration—he races across the ground, arms aloft, sometimes all the way to the boundary line. It is also clear from how much cricket he plays; he has represented over 12 teams, in Pakistan, his country of birth, England, South Africa and India. Tahir, 37, has played 20 Test matches for South Africa and is part of the Delhi Daredevils team in this year’s Indian Premier League. Here, he speaks about bowling spin in Twenty20 (T20) cricket, the best batsmen he has bowled to and moving from Pakistan to South Africa for love. Edited excerpts from an interview:

What mindset does a leg-spinner need to have in Twenty20 (T20) cricket? Do you go for wickets all the time or try to contain runs?

If you contain the runs, you will get wickets. If you go for wickets all the time, then you will go for runs as well because you will have to flight the ball and invite the batsmen to hit you. In T20, batsmen are always going after you, so a good policy is to bowl five-six dot balls in your first two-three overs so that pressure builds on the batsman and he plays riskier shots.

Who is the best leg-spinner in the world in the T20 format?

I think Mishra (Amit Mishra, Tahir’s Delhi Daredevils teammate) is the one. There are not too many leg-spinners in the world, and if you look closely, Mishra bhai will stand out as one of the best.

Before you played for the South African national team, there was a perception that it had a one-dimensional attack that relied on pace and had no quality spin bowlers. Did that make it easier for you to break into the team?

It wasn’t easy for me since we (South Africa) have historically used spinners only to contain runs. I don’t want to say this, but I have managed to change this trend. Maybe not in Test cricket as much, but definitely in One Day Internationals and T20 cricket .

The way you celebrate the fall of a wicket is as fascinating as your bowling...

People enjoy it and they do ask why I celebrate in such a way, but I tell them that I really don’t know. Maybe it is because cricket has given me everything in life, and so I want to show people how important this game is for me. Cricket was in my blood, it is my life, and I am thankful to South Africa and its cricket board for allowing me to fulfil my dream.

You were born and brought up in Pakistan, which has a great tradition of producing leg-spinners. Who were your heroes when you were growing up?

Abdul Qadir. No one else. He was one bowler nobody could decode, and I always wanted to be like him. But later on, I realized that Allah has blessed everyone with different gifts. What he (Qadir) had, I may not have, and something that I have, he may not have had. I have met great leg-spinners such as Qadir, Shane Warne, Mushtaq Ahmed and Stuart MacGill, and each one of them have told me the same thing—not to copy anyone but do the best with what I have. I quickly realized that I couldn’t bowl a big leg-break like Warne or flippers like Qadir. I still try to imitate Qadir in a way, but it’s not easy.

You have lived your life passionately off the field too. You went to South Africa from Pakistan for love…

One must always love passionately. I knew my wife for a long time (Tahir and his wife, Sumayya, met when Tahir toured South Africa with the Pakistan Under-19 team in 1998), and she was the reason I went to South Africa (in 2006). It wasn’t planned that if I go over there we would get married soon. But thanks to the almighty, I found both my loves flourish in South Africa: the love of my life and my love of cricket.

In the past few months, Virat Kohli has had an amazing run in T20 cricket. How challenging is he to bowl to?

The whole world is talking about him, and I am no different. I have a lot of respect for young players like Joe Root, Kane Williamson and Steven Smith, but Kohli looks a bit different and ahead of the others. He takes his job very seriously. I like his passion for the country; it is inspiring.

You must feel lucky that you don’t have to bowl against A.B. de Villiers in international cricket.

He is a phenomenon. He is a bit ahead of everyone else in this game. He is the best ever for me; we have never seen a greater batsman than him. Of course, he is blessed with God’s gift, but he works equally hard.

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