Exactly a year after Misbah-ul-Haq’s boys conquered England – then the No 1 Test side in the world. Pakistan face a similar challenge in South Africa, but this time the mountain they have to climb is much steeper than before.
England was the best side in the world then, as South Africa is at the moment. However, the two series cannot be compared because the differences are obvious; Pakistan faced the world No 1 last year in the UAE, “a home away from home” on the slow and low tacks. Pakistan now battle in the opposition’s formidable backyard where the pitches will be entirely different with more venom in them for quicker bowlers.
Pakistan’s successes in the past two years have been impressive and it can largely be attributed to the spin bowling department, with Saeed Ajmal doing the bulk of the damage, and Abdur Rehman and Mohammad Hafeez backing him up brilliantly. They will be up against some of the finest batsmen in the world like Jacques Kallis, Hashim Amla, Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers, who are formidable in all conditions, let alone their own home turf. Besides, they also have Faf du Plessis who has taken Test cricket by storm. With an average of 111.25, he has scored two half centuries and two tons in six innings.
There hasn’t been a dearth of natural talent and flair in Pakistan’s pace attack over the years. Junaid Khan and Mohammad Irfan show great potential, but they lack experience. The role of Umar Gul thus becomes crucial. He has to lead this attack from the front, and not only perform himself, but guide the other two as well.
The real question mark is on the Pakistani batting. Can their batsman hold their nerve against South African pacers?
One has seen over and over again that even though Pakistan bowlers somehow manage to rise to the occasion, it’s the other two departments of the game that let us down – batting more than the fielding. The openers, Mohammad Hafeez and Nasir Jamshed have shown good form in the warm-up game against South Africa’s Invitation-XI. They will have to sustain that good work.
Pakistan will rely highly on Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq in the middle order because of their experience and ability. Younis’s role will be more crucial, because not only is he a world class batsman, but also because he is one of the best slip fielders Pakistan has ever produced.
As far as our captaincy is concerned, Misbah will have to do the job for which he is mostly hated by Pakistani public in limited overs cricket – he will have to defend against the likes of Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn and survive while the others play around him.
Vernon Philander: This man has come as a blessing for South Africa. You get the feeling he will take a wicket with every ball he bowls! His sporty fury on the pitch is a pleasure to watch, and he can be a real thorn for Pakistan’s side. The Pakistan batsmen usually struggle against quality swing bowling. Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s performance in the recently-concluded limited-over series is an indication to that.
Mohammad Irfan: The surprise of the last series, this 7ft 1inch tall bowler has improved immensely from the first time one saw him in England; his pace is up by 10-15 km/h and he now seems to know where to pitch the ball. It will be really exciting to see him bowl on the greener and bouncier pitches if he remains fit and that is a big ‘if’ because of his body structure.
Nasir Jamshed: He has been a star performer since the Asia Cup last year, but now is the time for the real test — the test of skill, character and technique. If he comes through this storm, it will be clear that he belongs at the top level of the game and he is destined to stay there for a long time to come.
All things said, in my opinion, it will all come down to how Pakistani batsmen perform. Will they able to adapt to the tough conditions? Are they brave enough to get hit on the bodies and not give up? Make no mistake, the ball will move around and bounce more than the Pakistan batsmen are used to and it will be really tough. They will have to dig in and survive to score runs. And if they do that, we are in for one heck of a series. (Naveed Alam Siddiqui is a mechanical engineering graduate whose interests include sports and current affairs. He tweets as @Naveed_Sid. The above article is reproduced with permission from http://tribune.com.pk/)