Pakistan vs South Africa 2013: Loss at Abu Dhabi a wake-up call for Test champions

Graeme Smith and Alviro Petersen failed to fire for South Africa at the top of the order in first Test against Pakistan © Getty Images (File Photo)

Pakistan produced a clinical show in the first Test at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi to hand the top-ranked South Africa their first loss after 15 Tests. While the Pakistanis staged a confident comeback after a disappointing show in Zimbabwe, the South Africans didn’t look prepared well enough after a long break. Devarchit Varma has more…

Playing their first Test since February, the South Africans looked under-prepared and out-of-sorts coming into the match. If there were any doubts regarding that, the hammering that they got against the side ranked as low as sixth in the International Cricket Council (ICC) Test Rankings certainly proved it.

Indeed the lack of five-day cricket was a worrying factor for the Graeme Smith-led side — which they never admitted — but the flop show in all departments in Abu Dhabi indicates that South Africa will have to get their act together in the second and final Test match in order to maintain their unbeaten run in last 12 series since 2009-10. On the other hand, Pakistan would look to maintain their unbeaten streak in the UAE, where they haven’t lost a single match since the attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in 2009 led to shifting of their home venue.

Pakistan would go into the second match knowing well that a irrespective of the result in the second Test they are secured of the No 4 spot in the ICC Test Rankings.

South African mighty batting strong line-up, barring Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers, (in the second innings) struggled against the Pakistan bowlers. Even their hugely-admired pace attack failed to come to the fore when they needed. Instead, it took the little-known pair of Khurram Manzoor and Shan Masood who dominated the proceedings.

South Africa needs opening pair to make strong starts

Like Manzoor and Masood did the job for Pakistan in the first innings, that set the platform for their middle-order, South Africans too would like to see their opening pair of Smith and Alviro Petersen making strong starts. While South Africa have so far enjoyed a good run at the top in past few months, they would certainly need some more runs from their opening pair. In the first Test, Smith and Petersen had a forgettable outing. Any side that has dominated for a long time in Test cricket history has boasted of strong opening pairs — which have assisted in their longevity at the top.

Like Gordon Greenidge-Desmond Haynes for the West Indies, Matthew Hayden-Justin Langer for Australia, Gautam Gambhir-Virender Sehwag for India, and Andrew Strauss-Alastair Cook for England, South Africa too need their pair of Smith and Petersen to fire.

Smith’s record hasn’t been phenomenal in the last one year. His last Test century came against Australia in November 2012. A period of 12 innings since then has seen a lull of the three-figure mark from his bat. Petersen, on the other hand, last touched the three-figure mark against New Zealand in January 2013 at Cape Town. However, he is yet to go past the half-century run-mark following that effort.

Even as the stats aren’t as bad for the duo, the South Africans would hope to pull up on this front. The pair of Smith and Petersen averages 41.26 in 43 Test innings — certainly not a bad figure in today’s scenario where almost every top side is struggling to find a reliable opening pair. This is one area where South Africa can build upon and move much ahead of their competitors.  

South Africa may not have to ponder much upon the performance of the opening combination as they are followed by the likes of Amla, Jacques Kallis, de Villiers, JP Duminy and Faf du Plessis. However, over dependency — especially on Amla and the experienced Kallis — may not go in their favour.
Bowlers failed to make a mark

The pitch at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium wasn’t expected to assist fast bowlers and Kepler Wessels hinted that the captains would choose to bat first without any hesitation in case they win the toss in his assessment.

Smith did the right thing by electing to bat. However the South African batsmen cut a sorry picture for their fans, as they struggled against Mohammad Irfan and Junaid Khan. Looking at the scenes of the first innings, it wasn’t tough to imagine that the likes of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel will excel on their turn. But it did not happen. The lack of five-day cricket certainly hurt their star trio. Steyn and Morkel came into the tournament at the back of ordinary outings in the Champions League T20 (CLT20) 2013, and their struggle was evident. Philander, though, had a good game against Pakistan with five wickets, but it went in vain.

Lack of cricket hurt South Africa

Coach Russell Domingo denied that the lack of Test cricket will hamper South Africa’s chances in the two-match Test series, as he expected the ‘matured bunch of cricketers’ to shrug off the rust and be up for the challenge. Unfortunately for the touring side, that did not happen. While Pakistan’s mechanism was working fine having played all forms of cricket in the past few months, South Africans indeed lost at this front.

They came off from a long break into a five-day game and certainly had no momentum, up against a side that was looking for an opportunity to bounce back after the shattering loss to Zimbabwe at Harare. Also, there was only one warm-up match scheduled before the first Test, which too wasn’t a good idea. Few more tour games could have helped the African side to get acclimatised to the heat and subcontinent pitches.

The loss has raised some concerns for the Smith-led side now coached by Domingo. They need to get their act together for the October 23 start. Certainly, South Africa are under pressure, but, given the talent at their disposal, they are strong enough to tame any side on any pitch and under any given conditions.

(Devarchit Varma is a reporter with CricketCountry. He can be followed on Twitter @Devarchit)

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