South Africa January 8, 2007

Will new heroes crown Woolmer's progress?

Pakistan's embarrassment of riches has quickly turned into a poverty of resources

Pakistan's embarrassment of riches has quickly turned into a poverty of resources. Mohammad Yousuf and Umar Gul were the best batsman and best bowler of 2006, and losing them is a major blow to Pakistan's hopes of winning their first ever series in South Africa. After India almost pulled off a memorable surprise, Pakistan must have been brimming with confidence. Yousuf's loss will be the greater since his phenomenal run of last year earned him the status of Pakistan's most dependable batsman.

Pakistani batsmen have historically struggled in South Africa and this series promises to be a fascinating test of their consistency. Memories of outings at Old Trafford and Mohali will fill Pakistan fans with dread. The pressure will now be on Inzamam to carry the batting and prove his stature with a first successful series in South Africa. A career devoid of achievement in Australia or South Africa will be a career that will not be properly celebrated.

Yousuf's absence--and that of Shoaib Malik--will, however, be an unexpected opportunity for Pakistan's next generation of batsmen, Faisal Iqbal and Yasir Hameed--it is hard to see Asim Kamal nudging his way in front of them. Pakistan's top six suddenly looks light on experience but this is exactly the kind of step that players need to take on the path to a bigger career. As much as anything, it will be a test of character for the younger batsmen, particularly the two openers.

The bowling cover is less bothersome. Gul will be missed but an attack of Mohammad Asif, Rana Naved-ul Hasan, and Shahid Nazir looks the most likely combination, with a toss up between Danish Kaneria and Mohammad Sami for the final spot depending on the pitch. Despite Shoaib's summons, following his destruction of mighty Abbotabad, I'd be surprised if he were risked in the first Test, possibly at all.

Pakistan might have begun the series as favourites but the loss of key players means that South Africa now have the upper hand. This series, perhaps more than the World Cup, will be a measure of Bob Woolmer's progress with Team Pakistan.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here