South Africa's shock decision to open the bowling with leg-spinner Imran Tahir against England in the World Cup opener last night was a plan devised a year in advance, according to skipper Faf du Plessis.
To the surprise of The Oval crowd, television commentators and England's opening batsmen, Tahir bowled the first over of the 2019 World Cup and struck with just his second delivery.
A looping leg-break turned just enough to kiss the outside edge of Jonny Bairstow's bat, which was promptly held by Proteas gloveman Quinton de Kock as Tahir took off for the outfield in one of his trademark wicket celebrations.
While the early breakthrough put the hosts immediately on the backfoot, England would regather, post a first-innings total of 8-311 and bowl out South Africa for 207 in reply.
Speaking after the game, du Plessis explained the thinking behind the inspired move to start with his veteran spinner, who finished with figures of 2-61 from 10 overs.
"It was a plan, it was something that we thought about a year ago," du Plessis told reporters after the 104-run loss in London.
"I said when we play against England there's a feeling that I want to go with 'Immy' (Tahir) because it is something different.
"I suppose it (the plan) got a little bit tested when you win the toss and you're bowling first and it's normally The Oval where you want to bowl two seamers.
"But … it's sticking to what I feel is the best opportunity to get a wicket, and that's to everyone.
"So to those two (Bairstow and opening partner Jason Roy) at the top my gut was just saying that 'Imran is a big chance of getting a wicket'.
"In the build up to this game, practicing with the new ball for the last two weeks, it's something that he's not really done before but he knew he was going to take that first over today."
It was the first time the opening over of a World Cup was bowled by a spinner and six years since South Africa started with spin ODI cricket when left-arm orthodox spinner Robin Peterson took the new ball against Sri Lanka in 2013.
The Proteas remain in London to take on Bangladesh at The Oval on Sunday while England face Pakistan in Nottingham the following day.
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