The morale-boosting One-Day International (ODI) series win in India earlier this month may have given much heart to the national team and its fans, considering the fact that the side had to overcome the immense pressure of playing the world champions in front of highly-partisan home crowd, not to mention the prospect of facing a batting line-up which, on reputation, was considered one of the finest in the world in limited-overs cricket.
While the fact that Pakistan were able to come out on top in the battle of nerves that comes into play every time they face India, there is little doubt that the ODI series-win against the arch-rivals will not count for a lot on the upcoming tour of South Africa that kicks off on February 1.
The world’s top-ranked Test side poses a starkly different challenge for Misbah-ul-Haq’s men, who will be playing outside the subcontinent after a long time.
The alien conditions, the prospect of facing arguably the best pace attack on the planet, and attempting to break the defense of a batting line-up that is as formidable as any in the world, will surely be playing on the minds of the players.
Add to this, the fact that this is the first tour in South Africa for quite a few members of the team, who have not often been tested by as classy a side as South Africa. This makes this upcoming African safari the most important test for Misbah’s captaincy so far.
The positive aspect, thus far, has been the fact that the Pakistan captain does not seem to have been carried away by the excellent effort of the team in India. His statements indicate that he is cognisant of the challenges ahead and realises that it will require a superb display of skill, class and mental toughness to overcome the challenge posed by the likes of Hashim Amla, Dale Steyn, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers and Vernon Philander, among others.
Such an attitude is all the more welcome as the series-win in India could not hide the fragility of the batting line-up that seemed too reliant on the performances of a youngster like Nasir Jamshed.
Despite the recent superb show put up by the fast-bowlers, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Irfan and even Umar Gul, if Pakistan is to pass the South African test, they will need the experienced hands in the batting line-up to pull their weight.
Misbah and Younis Khan will need to come into some sort of form as quickly as possible if the national team wants to post competitive totals.
Having surreal expectations from youngsters like Jamshed or even from a relatively more experienced batsman like Azhar Ali, who will be touring South Africa for the first time, will be quite unfair.
In the same vein, asking the likes of Junaid Khan and Mohammad Irfan to run through the hosts’ batting on a regular basis will be equally uncalled for, notwithstanding their brilliant show across the border.
Despite this, if there is anything that gives Pakistan hope of competing against South Africa on equal terms, it is the bowling attack of which Junaid and Irfan will be integral cogs. In the past couple of seasons, Pakistan’s spinners have answered the call of duty and led the team to some famous wins.
While the likes of Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman will remain a handful, the pace attack’s performance will be the key to Pakistan’s chances.
Misbah and coach Dav Whatmore, will do well to remember this, as well as the fact that the batsmen will need to take their performance up a notch or two from their usual standards in order to give a creditable show over the coming weeks.