MUMBAI Imran Tahir needed less than 12 deliveries to highlight the folly of his rejection at the Indian Premier League auction in February when the leg-spinner set up Pune's thrilling victory in their IPL opener against Mumbai on Thursday.
The 38-year-old South African is the top-ranked bowler in both forms of international white-ball cricket yet he was surprisingly overlooked by all eight franchises for the 2017 edition of the cash-rich tournament.
It was only after Australian all-rounder Mitchell Marsh was ruled out through injury that the Rising Pune Supergiant signed Tahir, who has previously played for the Delhi Daredevils, as a replacement.
Despite his late reprieve, the leg-spinner was pressed into action early in his side's home match after the Mumbai Indians had made a flying start.
Making light of being asked to bat first, Jos Buttler and Parthiv Patel took Mumbai to 41-0 in four overs when skipper Steve Smith tossed the ball to Tahir and he struck with his second delivery to dismiss the Indian international.
In his next over, Tahir removed opposition captain Rohit Sharma for three and then the dangerous Buttler for 38, who was unlucky to be given out lbw, to reduce Mumbai to 62-3 and underline his value as a wicket-taking bowler.
Tahir thanked the Pune franchise for given him an opportunity to compete in the tournament, even if it came later than he expected.
"I was initially very sad not to be a part of this league, but really pleased with myself to have performed well on getting an opportunity and making the most of it," he told the IPL website (www.iplt20.com).
"I was quite low when I went unsold in the auction but life goes on. I came here to prove myself again and my job is to perform whenever given an opportunity."
Mumbai lost momentum after Tahir's triple strike but rebuilt their innings to reach 184 for eight thanks to some incredible hitting by Hardik Pandya against paceman Ashok Dinda in the final over, which went for an eye-popping 30 runs.
The team still fell short, however, as the brilliant Smith blasted Kieron Pollard for consecutive sixes in the final over to guide his team to a seven-wicket victory with one ball to spare.
"The way the Mumbai Indians batsmen were batting, it looked like they would end up scoring 200-odd runs, but I always love such kind of challenges," Tahir, who posted figures of 3-28 from his four overs, added.
"I respect good batsmen but at the same time I always look to get wickets and try to break the momentum of the opposition.
"The three batsmen who I got out today are good against spin bowling and that's what makes these wickets more special for me."
(Writing by Sudipto Ganguly; Editing by John O'Brien)