Hall ban won't hurt SA, says Symcox
Andrew Hall: missing for South Africa
South Africa go into the first Test against Pakistan in Lahore on Friday deprived of the lung-busting allround skills of the banned Andrew Hall, but the former Test offspinner - and ex-national selector - Pat Symcox still believes they will be too strong for their hosts.
Hall's ban - one ODI and two Tests - for his altercation with Yousuf Youhana in the one-day series, which South Africa eventually won 3-2, was upheld on appeal this week. But Symcox - Man of the Series the last time South Africa visited Pakistan, in 1997, when he starred with both bat and ball - does not believe that Hall, a combative allrounder, will necessarily be missed.
"I don't think South Africa will miss Andrew Hall at all," Symcox told Wisden Cricinfo today. "He does not bowl out-and-out pace, and whoever replaces him will probably be a similar type of bowler. I don't see him as a guy who is going to run up and take six-for in a Test match. He could do a good job and pick up one or two, but he's not going to be a matchwinning bowler in Pakistan like Makhaya Ntini could be. And I don't see him having a great influence with the bat at No. 9. I think the games will be won and lost at the top of the order."
Under Graeme Smith, their young captain, South Africa are still searching for a settled side, with important questions still to be answered by the middle order and the back-up bowlers to Shaun Pollock and Ntini. However, Symcox believes South Africa will have enough in their armoury to win, especially against a Pakistan side that will be without their captain, Inzamam-ul-Haq, who has a leg injury.
"We're well equipped to beat them in the Test matches - we've got momentum on our side," says Symcox. "Pakistan have also seen that pace is not going to beat us. We've shown we can handle Shoaib Akhtar and co., and I would think the guys are pretty confident right now. Pakistan have to look at other avenues now. I don't know if they have got the batsmen to post really big scores."
Symcox went on: "I would have gone the spinners' route from the beginning and played Shoaib plus one other seamer, and then had Saqlain [Mushtaq] and Mushie [Mushtaq Ahmed] bowling. But to use your spinners well you need to post big scores, and I don't think they've got the batters to do that."
Although Herschelle Gibbs is struggling for form with the bat, the South African top order has been strengthened by the arrival of Gary Kirsten, the veteran left-hander whom Symcox pinpointed as central to the tourists' cause. "Gary is absolutely crucial because he understands the need for patience in a place like Pakistan. You've got to have the mentality that scoring a hundred in Pakistan is not the same as in other places - runs are harder to come by and it just takes longer.
"What we know is that if you get in, it is vitally important to stay in, because it's tougher to come to the wicket later on when the ball's older and reversing and spinning. If you don't set up the innings and lose three or four wickets you can lose a good position very quickly. Someone has to bat through."
Meanwhile South Africans continue to express their dismay at Hall's ban, with the majority feeling that he has been harshly treated. The former Test fast bowler Fanie de Villiers said this week that 99% of the callers to his TV cricket show were unhappy at the severity of the sentence handed down to Hall.
de Villiers added some opinions of his own, about the way the affair had been treated by the ICC and its chief executive, Malcolm Speed. "This shows the incompetence of the ICC," said de Villiers. "Their decision is both diabolical and disappointing. They are a bunch of old fools on the ICC. I'd like to know if they actually even spoke to the players."
Pakistan (from) Taufeeq Umar, Imran Farhat, Yasir Hameed, Yousuf Youhana (capt), Misbah-ul-Haq, Faisal Iqbal, Asim Kamal, Shoaib Malik, Moin Khan (wk), Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Sami, Mushtaq Ahmed, Danish Kaneria, Shabbir Ahmed, Salman Butt, Kamran Akmal (wk).
South Africa (from) Graeme Smith (capt), Herschelle Gibbs, Gary Kirsten, Jacques Kallis, Boeta Dippenaar, Jacques Rudolph, Neil McKenzie, Mark Boucher (wk), Shaun Pollock, Makhaya Ntini, Alan Dawson, Paul Adams, Robin Peterson, Charl Langeveldt, Andre Nel.