Pak and S.A. prepare for battle
30 Sep 2007
By: Paul Wood
Shoaib Malik embarks on his new career as Pakistan's Test captain on October 1, when the Test series againt South Africa gets underway. His sidekick, Salman Butt, is also new to his role as vice-captain in Test cricket, as will be the coach Geoff Lawson.
While Pakistan have instigated change, so too, it appears, are South Africa after they strongly implied that Shaun Pollock was to be left out of the series opener. Whether that will happen may depend on the result of Morne Morkel's fitness test , and you can be sure he will give his ankle every chance to recovery in time to make his second Test appearance.
It promises to be a gripping contest between two proud nations, who on any given day can produce Test cricket of the highest quality, yet it is the consistency of their cricket that causes reason for consternation. On paper there does not seem to be much between the two sides, and with only two Tests taking place, mistakes will have to be at a premium, as there will be insufficient opportunities to make amends.
The first Test is to be played in the National Stadium, Karachi, while the show then moves on to Lahore and the Gadaffi Stadium. South Africa will then have a one-day warm up game, before five ODI's take place.
South Africa have visited Pakistan for two series in the past. Their first tour, back in 1997, was a successful one with victory in the final Test, of a three match series, in Faislabad. Pakistan were set a seemingly paltry 146 to win the series, but were bowled out for 92, after Paul Adams and Pat Symcox took the new ball. It was the reliable Shaun Pollock, however, that did the main damage taking 5-37, including four of the top five.
The last visit to Pakistan for South Africa was in 2003, when Pakistan reversed the scoreline, winning 1-0, after winning the opening Test in Lahore. This time the home side succeeded in chasing down 161, Danish Kaneria took five second innings wickets to halt South Africa's charge in setting a bigger total. Taufeeq Umar helped the hosts home with 63, following on from his 111 in the first innings.
There is no question that contests between the sides are historically very close affairs, and there is no reason why this series will not be equally as absorbing.
SQUADS FOR THE FIRST TEST
Shoaib Malik (c), Salman Butt, Abdur Rehman, Danish Kaneria, Faisal Iqbal, Iftikhar Anjum, Kamran Akmal (wk), Misbah-ul-Haq, Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Yousuf, Taufeeq Umar, Umar Gul, Yasir Hameed, Younis Khan.
SOUTH AFRICA :
Graeme Smith (c), Hashim Amla, Mark Boucher, AB de Villiers, Jean-Paul Duminy, Herschelle Gibbs, Paul Harris, Jacques Kallis, Morne Morkel, Andre Nel, Makhaya Ntini, Shaun Pollock, Ashwell Prince, Dale Steyn.
The home side may very well opt for two spinners in the opening Test in Karachi, the track looks dry and typical of a sub-continental wicket. So alongside Danish Kaneria is likely to be left arm spinner Abdur Rehman, making his Test debut. He has appeared in five ODI's, and while his off spin is impressive, there are questions as to what variety he has in his armoury.
After the recent confusion regarding Mohammad Yousuf, and his ICL contract, there is no doubt Pakistan will be relieved to have him in their ranks for this series. The middle order has become increasingly important for Pakistan, after the constant changes in search of a successful opening partnership. For the first Test, Mohammad Hafeez, who looked in decent nick in the Twenty20, will be joined by the returning Salman Butt, who played his last Test in England, back in August 2006.
Inzamam-ul-Haq will be missing from the middle order, but replaced by a man that re-invented himself at the Twenty20 tournament, Misbah-ul-Haq. The 33 year-old has not played a Test match for over four years, and the excellent temperament he displayed in South Africa may come in handy in this pressure cooker encounter.
Umar Gul and Mohammad Asif are the likely new ball operators, and quite possibly the only quick bowlers in the side. Gul is continuing to improve, his repertoire in the Twenty20 was impressive, as was his pace. With his extra yard of pace, Gul will no doubt keep the batsmen honest, while Asif will concentrate on bowling in his areas and stifling the batsmen of any free shots. Use of the new ball may be crucial, as there is not expected to be a huge amount of movement after the shine has disappeared. Swing can not be discounted, particularly as Pakistan are the main exponents of reverse swing.
South Africa have endured their own difficulties in identifying the perfect opening batting partnership, and have resorted back to the tried and tested combination of Graeme Smith and Herschelle Gibbs. The two have enjoyed success against Pakistan in the past, in the 2002/03 series in South Africa, they combined for a 368 run stand for the first wicket. In all Test matches, the pair still average a very reasonable 62 for the opening wicket.
Batting is the visitors strength, and with the potential of Andre Nel lining up at number eight, the top seven will need to find form early. Mark Boucher has already registered a century in their only tour game before the series begins. Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Jacques Kallis all passed 50, and only Ashwell Prince made single figures in the top seven.
Mickey Arthur and captain Smith seem to be in sync regarding the omission of Pollock. That would have been a certainty had Morkel not injured his ankle, and it may come down to a straight choice between Pollock and the quicker, yet less accurate, Dale Steyn. The South African management have publicly stated their desire to give the younger seam bowlers a chance, and in this case, at the expense of the man that was thought to be indispensable. With home series against New Zealand and West Indies on the horizon, surely then would be the time to blood one or two of the younger generation, rather than the harsh bowling environment of Pakistan.
The tourists lone spinning option, Paul Harris, may have a major say in the outcome of this series. He will look to extract extra bounce with his height and give the ball a fair old rip, but Pakistan are an adept side at playing slow bowling and may look to attack Harris early and not allow him time to settle.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Umar Gul (Pakistan)
With the likes of Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Sami, and Danish Kaneria around, Umar Gul has always remained relatively in the background when it comes to Pakistan's high profile bowlers. His action is solid, his pace is good and his accuracy has improved, there is no mistaking Umar Gul is becoming a potent threat at international level. He hits the seam and can expect to generate decent bounce with his height, and is still only 24 years old. He has taken 61 wickets in 14 matches at an average of just over 30, and if he continues the way he is heading, that average will come plummeting down in the near future.
Jacques Kallis (South Africa)
After relinquishing his responsibilities as vice-captain to Graeme Smith, Kallis will have full focus on his batting, and also his very useful swing bowling. But it his batting that he is famed for, and it will be pivotal to South Africa in getting runs on the board to enable them to exert some pressure on the home side. His consistency is virtually un-rivalled, yet his average against Pakistan (42.82) is well below his overall record (55.09), something he will look to rectify in this series. Patience is required against Kaneria and co. and this man has bags of it, along with the willingness to bat long periods of time, despite the searing heat.
So it is all set for a closely fought and thoroughly intriguing series. Both sides are aware of the need to have wicket taking bowlers to find the necessary 20 wickets on tracks that are difficult to dislodge batsmen when set. Will South Africa's lack of spin options be their shortfall once more, or can Harris rise to the test ?
Pakistan are a notoriously difficult proposition on home turf, and while I anticipate one of the Tests ending in a run glut of a draw, I also foresee the home side winning a Test match by virtue of Kaneria's spin wizardry. Pakistan to edge the series, but only just.
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